Monday, December 04, 2006

Meetings Ahead, Legal Notice Error

For those who try to follow what’s going on at City Hall, the coming week will be a challenge.

There’s an agenda session Monday, a budget meeting Tuesday, a regular council meeting Wednesday as well as a Board of Adjustment meeting and on Thursday the Planning Board meets.

As soon as Plaintalker finds out what is on the City Council agenda, we will publish a heads-up Monday. It is already known that Thursday’s Planning Board meeting will include a site plan review of the plans for the new senior center and condo development.

Maybe there will be some news about a new city administrator. The city also needs a permanent tax collector instead of a person who is fulltime in another municipality.

For those sharp-eyed folks who check legal notices, disregard Saturday’s notice that MC 2006-38 will be up for final passage Dec. 20. The notice incorrectly states that the ordinance passed on first reading on Nov. 22. This is the controversial ordinance that would increase Certificate of Compliance fees by 350 percent. Ever since it hit the light of day a few months ago, the measure has drawn the wrath of real estate interests. Most recently, local real estate agents and property owners got the backing of statewide organizations that sent representatives to council meetings to raise objections.

However, a related ordinance that would increase building code fees did pass in November and is up for final passage on Dec. 20. The lengthy ordinance details increases in building, plumbing, electrical and fire protection fees, as well as general fees for such things as plan reviews, training and appeals to decisions of officials in charge of the various sub-codes.

Real estate agents also objected to that ordinance, but city officials said the state Department of Community Affairs expects enforcement of the Uniform Construction Code to be self-sustaining. The fees are meant to cover the cost of inspections for new construction and renovations.

In real life, both ordinances have loopholes. If the increased fees for Certificate of Compliance inspections ever pass, enforcement will depend on a landlord or property owner requesting the inspection. Those who currently try to dodge the fees will certainly try even harder to escape a 350 percent increase.

The building code fees will also depend on cooperation from those affected. Many projects take place on weekends and off hours when inspectors are not around. Last summer, officials found major projects that had proceeded without permits or with liberal interpretations of what was permitted.

With a few major development proposals on the horizon, let’s hope the city does not turn around and waive fees as a concession to the developers. In fact, let’s hope that the intent of the ordinance will be honored by not letting anyone, from elected officials to the average citizen, off the hook once the ordinance takes effect. Or is it the case that “some of us are more equal than others” in Plainfield?

--Bernice Paglia


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