Thursday, November 23, 2006

Fee Increases Draw Fire Again

Realtors again turned out Wednesday (Nov. 22, 2006) to call for more discussion of two ordinances that would increase inspection and building code fees.

The City Council had already put off for the third time an ordinance that would increase Certificate of Compliance inspection fees by 350 percent. The issue was to have been taken up again on Dec. 6, but real estate agent Wilma Campbell told the council a real estate convention was taking place that day and asked for the matter to be dealt with later.

The Certificate of Compliance inspections assure that either the buyer or seller will bring a property up to code at the time of sale. Rental units are also supposed to be brought up to code before new tenants move in. The city’s position is that current fees are outdated, but the real estate community is questioning the steep increase all at once.

The building code fee increases are necessary because the state Department of Community Affairs wants such operations to be self-supporting, Public Works & Urban Development Director Jennifer Wenson Maier told the council. But speakers questioned the increases, even though the administration has already backed off a bit on the proposed amounts.

Wenson Maier said the administration’s construction code costs are $380,000 a year, but income is only $270,000 annually. Speakers said the division might seek hiring inspectors who are able to perform several kinds of inspections instead of just one, and might review other office costs to make the formula more viable.

Among missteps in the discussion, Wenson Maier said the “committee” spoke with the administration, but it turned out she was referring to new Councilman Harold Gibson, not the three members of the Inspections Committee, who are council members Don Davis, Rashid Burney and Cory Storch.

Davis called for a meeting with Wenson Maier and real estate agents within the next few weeks to discuss the issues.

It may well be that calendar issues will push the matter over into the New Year, due to publication schedules for legal notices. City Clerk Laddie Wyatt said the seven-page building code ordinance will require a long lead time for publication according to newspaper rules.

Among the speakers, John Campbell was both articulate and entertaining in his remarks.

“I don’t know why there’s such a rush to judgment without doing due diligence on something that’s going on to impact the whole city,” he said.

Campbell said, “What you’re doing is discouraging people from doing business in the city.”

Campbell disputed comparative costs that the administration cited from other municipalities.

“Let’s take another look and have some dialogue,” he said.

Campbell said the real estate interests were not going away. He recalled how a scratchy old 45 RPM record would repeat part of a song over and over.

“I’m gonna be like an old 45,” Campbell said, to characterize his ongoing opposition to the fee changes.

--Bernice Paglia


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