Planning Board looks at building permit fees

Published 8:55 pm Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Decatur County Planning Board met for two hours in a called work session Tuesday, to further discuss the county’s building permit fee schedule.

The issue came to light recently, when a citizen addressed county commissioners at their Tuesday, Feb. 28, meeting. He said he had to pay a permit fee of $2,100 for an agricultural storage building that would have cost him $365 to permit in the City of Bainbridge. According to him, the same building would have cost nothing to permit in Grady or Seminole counties.

At that meeting, commissioners said they would begin working on the issue immediately, and tasked the planning board to come up with recommended changes. The planning board met Tuesday, March 20, in a called meeting, and agreed to meet again Tuesday, March 27.

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At Tuesday’s meeting, several members of the planning board questioned the county’s way of differentiating between different categories of construction. The county currently 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.

One issue is that some farmers have tried to construct storage buildings for housing farm equipment or livestock, and they argue that those buildings should be categorized as “storage.” However, County Building Inspector Craig Smith told the planning board Tuesday that some of these agriculture buildings contain bathrooms or office space, and therefore should be classified as “commercial.”

Planning Board Member June Faircloth questioned whether the county should create a separate category for “agriculture” buildings, and assess a lower fee for those buildings. She also stated that there should perhaps be additional categories for agriculture buildings that have extra amenities like office space, bathrooms, and electricity or plumbing.

The Planning Board decided to break into two-member committees to further research the issues facing agricultural, commercial and residential building owners’ needs. They also agreed to meet again Tuesday, April 10, to detail their research and determine what their next step needs to be.

At Tuesday’s meeting, County Attorney Brown Moseley provided the planning board members with a typed memo of his comments on the issue. Moseley noted that state law allows for counties to assess their fees in three ways — with a flat rate, based on the value of the residence or building, or based on the square footage of the building.

Moseley noted that most of the surrounding counties use a valuation-based system to assess their fees.

“Most of the counties surrounding us have this graduated fee,” he said. “Ours is totally different.”

In addition, planning board members asked for Interim County Administrator Gary Breedlove to research whether the county has ever had an “appeals board” in the past. Smith said that such a board existed in the past and citizens were able to appeal to that board if they had a grievance with the building inspector or any other planning department official. Smith said such a board is appointed by the Board of Commissioners and is typically composed of electricians, plumbers, contractors and a community member at-large.

Smith said the appeals board was dissolved several years ago, and that currently grievances are brought before the planning board as a variance request. He noted that re-instating the appeals board would benefit both the department and citizens, and Breedlove said he would look into the issue further.

Moseley also stated that the appeals board should be reinstated.

“A variance is very different from a dispute between a homeowner and an architect or something like that,” he said. “Those kinds of disputes should not be [the planning board’s] responsibility.”

The next work session of the Decatur County Planning Board, which is open to the public, will be Tuesday, April 10, at 1:30 p.m., in the conference room at the Decatur County Administration Building.