County should simplify building permit fee schedule

Published 9:34 am Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Decatur County Planning Board held a public meeting Tuesday, to discuss the growing concern that the county’s building permit fee schedule is out of line when compared to other nearby municipalities.

Planning Director Paul Soudi provided copies of Decatur County’s fee schedule, as well as the fee schedules of other communities. While those schedules are difficult to summarize in only a few words, it is interesting to note that Decatur County is one of the few that calculates its fees for “new construction and additions” based on square footage. Residential (heated) is $0.26 per square foot; residential (unheated) is $0.19 per square foot; commercial is $0.25 per square foot; industrial is $0.26 per square foot; and storage is $0.19 per square foot.

The City of Bainbridge has a flat fee schedule based on valuation of the construction — a total valuation of $1,000 or less is $20; $1,001 to $50,000 valuation is $20 for the first $1,000 plus $5 for every additional thousand; and a similar ratio for larger constructions. Grady County, Seminole County and Lee County have similar fee schedules based on valuation, rather than square footage. In most cases, this valuation is often based on a simple formula (in Seminole County, the formula is $25 per square foot if the homeowner is doing the work; $45 per square foot if contracted but the owner doesn’t have the contracted price; $10 per square foot for sheds, outbuildings, porches and decks).

Square footage can be a misleading way of computing building permit fees. Under the county’s system, a 10,000-square-foot bank and a 10,000-square-foot empty warehouse could conceivably have the same building permit fees. Using valuation is a fairer method, because it encompasses the cost of materials used in construction, the cost of utilities, and other factors that aren’t present in a square-footage measurement.

The Decatur County Planning Board will meet next Tuesday for a work session to discuss this issue, and we strongly urge that board to consider recommending that the Board of Commissioners establish a valuation-based flat fee for the county. There are a number of issues and concerns with the planning department, but this is one issue that can be fixed quickly and will instantly allow our county to be more competitive in attracting new businesses and residents.