Building permit fees could go up substantially in the city of Fernandina Beach. Builders, developers and citizens would like to know why.
They will have a chance to ask at a meeting of the City Commission Tuesday when the proposed new fee schedule will be on the agenda for second reading.
It isn’t peanuts. For one recent project the total cost of fees was more than $750,000 and $103,000 of that was to have the fire marshal review the plan, which only took a few days. In another case, an industrial construction project was charged almost $21,000 for a fire marshal review and no one from the city ever set foot on the property.
The basic cost of permits is set to go up 14 percent, from $7 per $1,000 of project cost to $8. That will produce a lot of money for “city coffers.” In the current city budget the general fund got $1 million from license and permit fees. Oddly enough, the proposed budget for the next fiscal year calls for a 25 percent increase in compensation for those who work in the building department.
Nick Gillette, the head of a company that does infrastructure engineering for new developments, said permitting costs in the area were high even before the proposed increases.
Ron Flick, president of Compass Group, has been involved in litigation with the city over its fee structure, alleging overcharges of nearly $500,000. He says Fernandina building permit costs in one instance were $143,000 for what would cost $6,000 in Duval County.
But this is not just a case of businessmen upset about paying higher fees. The cost goes into the price of new homes and commercial buildings, at a time when everyone already is complaining about “affordable housing.”
Politicians and bureaucrats have learned that taxpayer complaints about higher visible taxes such as property taxes and sales taxes can be avoided if they hide taxes in fees. It is causing such pushback that lawsuits are being filed to stop them.
Government fees are supposed to match the cost to government for doing the work of producing permits. They aren’t intended to produce a profit.
In this case, government-induced inflation is driving up costs while permit fees are based on the cost of a project and thus rising in step even without an increase. The bureaucracy’s work is not increased just because the price of the project is inflated.
One astounding fact is that Fernandina Beach seems tired of the growth that produces more jobs and more revenue for the government. At a meeting during the last fee increase last year, the City Manager stated publicly that some fees were being raised in an effort to discourage certain types of applications. The City shouldn’t pick winners and losers by imposing excessive fees.
At the least, city officials should clarify their stance on growth, and provide figures to support the need for higher fees.