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Proposed fee hike irks builders

September 28, 1997

By STEVEN T. DENNIS

Staff Writer

If you are considering making improvements to your house or building a new one in Washington County, you might want to get your permits soon.

Permits and Inspections Director Paul Prodonovich has proposed raising permit fees by about 50 percent, a move that would bring in an additional $246,000 a year for the county.

The increases would hit small projects harder than large projects.

The price of all permits needed for construction of an average two-story house would increase from $372 to $554, a rise of 49 percent, according to county figures.

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The price of permits for a project like Staples would only rise 0.5 percent, from $60,647 to $60,929.

The plan has some homebuilders and contractors steamed.

"It's totally wrong," said Jim Elliott, owner of Tri-State Energy Corp. and a member of the county's electrical advisory board.

"Somebody's got to stand up for the little guy. The little old Mr. and Mrs. Jones are going to take a beating and the big companies are getting off free. A lot of people I deal with can't afford to pay for it," he said.

The proposed fee hikes include new application fees ranging from $20 to $75 for electrical, building and plumbing permits plus hikes in inspection fees.

And for the first time, fees would be charged on mechanical permits.

Elliott said that under the current rules, he can replace an air conditioner and furnace for just $20 in fees, but under the new system, would have to pay $75 because of the mechanical fees and the new application fees.

A county comparison with Frederick and Howard counties showed that the new fees would be about the same as Frederick County's and lower than Howard County's.

Elliott said it was wrong to use Frederick and Howard counties to compare fees because residents of those counties can afford to pay more. He said the county's fees would be far higher than those in neighboring Pennsylvania and West Virginia and in the City of Hagerstown.

Elliott also said he couldn't understand why the new fees were being considered at a time when the county has a $4.4 million to $4.7 million surplus.

Taylor Oliver, the owner of Oliver Homes, said the increases were too much at once and suggested that they be phased in over several years.

Prodonovich noted that permit fees haven't been increased since 1988.

Commissioner Jim Wade said the higher fees would be a part of the commissioners' plans to have county departments pay their own way. Wade said taxpayers shouldn't have to subsidize the permitting process.

But County Commissioner Ron Bowers said the proposed increases were exorbitant and said he was annoyed that input on the new fees hadn't been sought from the electrical advisory commission and others.

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