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Businesses likely to pay fees for fire code reviews

August 11, 1998|By JULIE E. GREENE

Hagerstown businesses and nonprofit groups probably will have to start paying fees this fall for having the Hagerstown Fire Marshal's Office review whether new or renovated buildings comply with the fire code.

Several City Council members have said they favor implementing some fees for those reviews. They initially considered such user fees during budget talks as a way to help the city get through the tight fiscal years ahead.

The fees, on which the council is expected to take a first vote in September, already are being charged by the state fire marshal's office, which is responsible for Washington County reviews and inspections outside Hagerstown city limits, fire officials said.

In Hagerstown, the city fire marshal's office must review and approve construction and renovation plans, but charges only for reviewing plans.

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The city also proposes raising the fee for reviewing plans for building permit applicants from 15 percent to 20 percent of the building permit application fee.

The council agreed with Fire Chief Gary Hawbaker's recommendation to hold off on reinstating a fee for assembly permits required for places that can seat or hold more than 50 people.

Hawbaker said he didn't want to start charging fees for the annual inspections to renew assembly permits because fire officials don't want to ruin the rapport they have with businesses.

The inspections help familiarize firefighters with areas they might need to know about in case of fire, fire officials said.

When council members talked last spring about implementing fire marshal office user fees as a way to minimize a property tax increase, it was believed the fees would bring in $15,000 a year.

By not charging for annual assembly permit inspections, that amount would drop to about $8,000 a year, city officials said.

The city revoked an assembly permit fee in 1995 after the Washington County Restaurant and Beverage Association objected.

During the five years the city had that fee, it generated about $5,000 a year, said City Finance Director Al Martin.

The restaurant association's president, Mary Ellen Pryor, said Monday that association officials were pleased with the council's decision not to reinstate the assembly permit fees.

They would have been an extra burden on businesses, Pryor said.

According to Hawbaker and City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman, proposed fees the council favored for new construction or renovation were:

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* " NATURALSIZEFLAG="0" ALIGN="BOTTOM"> Reinspection fees for use and occupancy permits at $50 per reinspection.

Sometimes when fire inspectors are called to make the final inspection, the work isn't done, requiring repeat inspections, Hawbaker said.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* " NATURALSIZEFLAG="0" ALIGN="BOTTOM"> Fire protection system review fees. This could include charging fees for reviewing fire sprinkler systems, smoke control systems, gaseous and chemical extinguishing systems, and fire alarm and detection systems.

The first reinspection would cost $50, the second would cost $100 and every reinspection after that would cost $200, according to a Hagerstown Fire Department memo.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* " NATURALSIZEFLAG="0" ALIGN="BOTTOM"> Technical assistance fees, which the department proposes be set at $45 per hour. Those fees would apply when developers ask a fire marshal to review fire code requirements for a specific project before the building permit is issued.

Zimmerman said he expects the council to vote on whether to introduce laws for the new user fees in September.

If the council adopts the law in October, the new fees would become effective on Nov. 27, said City Clerk Gann Breichner.

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