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Gainesville City Council to vote on raising building permit fees
City wants Inspections Division to cover more of its costs
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Gainesville City Council meeting
When: 5:30 p.m. today
Where: Gainesville Public Safety Complex, 701 Queen City Parkway, Gainesville

Gainesville City Council will vote today on whether to increase fees for the permits required for construction.
The council is considering a proposal that introduces new fees and raises others from the city’s Inspections Division, as it looks to bring collections in line with the costs of offering permits.

Since 2009, the budget for the division has exceeded fee collections by at least $100,000 each year, according to city documents. That means city taxpayers are paying the balance, Mayor Danny Dunagan has said.

Dunagan and other city officials have pushed for putting the costs on the developers who use — and are required to use — the service.

The proposal follows Hall County’s decision to increase similar fees in January.

Gainesville City Council, like the Hall County Board of Commissioners, had asked inspections staff to offer plans that closed the gap between expenditures and fees collected.

The decision comes as most local governments are trying to increase development in their jurisdictions. Still, local governments are also looking for new ways of raising revenue, after already slashing their budgets. The plan to increase permit rates follows a trend of government officials opting for increased user fees rather than raising taxes for everyone else.

Similarly, Hall County and Gainesville officials will consider raising fares for Hall Area Transit riders next week.

State law allows local jurisdictions to charge enough to pay for the costs of providing inspections, but no more.

For its part, Gainesville hasn’t come close to collecting enough in fees to cover its expenditures.

Last year, the Gainesville Inspections Division brought in $159,365 in fees from providing building plan reviews and permits for construction, signs and renovations. Meanwhile, it spent about $261,000 to bring those services.

The new proposed fee increases have come after the division’s expenditures were reduced. In the last three years, through layoffs and attrition, the Inspections Division has seen a decrease in employees (from six to four) and an overall expenditure reduction.

In 2009, the division spent $434,000. Compared to this year’s budget ($268,000), there has been a decrease of 40 percent.

“We’ve really cut our costs to become as lean as we possibly can,” said Rusty Ligon, the director of the Community Development Department.

In further justifying the proposed hike, Ligon points out that some of these fees have not been updated in nearly 20 years.

Plan review fees, which are collected for commercial projects only, have not been changed since 1993.

“Tell me one thing you bought in 1993 that you could buy today at the same price,” said Ligon.

Currently, plan review fees are $50 to $100 depending on the size of the structure. But Plan Review Manager Joe

Davidson said some projects require roughly two weeks’ worth of work, with day-to-day interruptions built in.

Other fees to be changed include commercial permits, which haven’t been changed since 1996, and residential permits, which haven’t been changed since 2000.

Councilman George Wangemann said the main question is self-sustainability for the department.

“I’m not so concerned about how long it’s been since we raised the fees. I’m worried about, ‘Are we covering your costs?’” said Wangemann. “If you’re not, then there’s justification for raising fees.”

In revising the fees, Ligon said he looked at nearby cities and counties to compare their rate structure with Gainesville’s. According to city reports, Gainesville’s proposed increase would still offer competitive fees — in a lot of cases lower — compared to nearby municipalities.

“I think it says a lot that we’ve changed our fees to cover cost, but we’re still competitive,” Ligon said.