The La Grande City Council is exploring raising building permit and inspection fees to sustain the city’s building division. (Chris Baxter/The Observer)
by Kelly Ducote/The Observer
The La Grande City Council is looking into raising building permit and inspection fees to sustain the city’s building division.
The council and David Kloss, certified building official for the city, met Monday evening to explore cost-saving and revenue-raising measures to maintain necessary reserves in the building fund, which has largely been sustained by revenues from the Elkhorn Valley Wind Farm.
Raising fees is “never a pleasant thing to do or to talk about” but may be necessary, Kloss said.
The city has made few changes to the building permit fee structure in recent years, except to conform to a statewide uniform fee methodology in 2010. At the same time, the building division has seen a decline in revenue flow, due to a downturn in building.
Kloss brought forth a proposal that would raise structural program fees 30 percent, and plumbing, mechanical and electrical programs 10 percent.
“The 2014 ending fund balance of $277,701 with the operating balance of $100,000 will provide only an eight-month reserve,” Kloss explained in a letter to the council. The suggested fee increases would begin to raise the ending fund balance to a 12-month reserve.
Taking the fee increases into account, the fee percentages based on valuation would be 1.9 percent in residential programs and .9 percent in commercial programs. Statewide ranges are between 1.1 and 2.3 percent on residential applications and .5 and 1.6 percent on commercial applications.
Councilor John Lackey brought up concerns about whether the fee increases would actually be enough to sustain the fund.
“If we get fewer applications, will we increase fees again?” he asked. Lackey suggested the council look at ways to cut expenses without raising fees.
Councilor John Bozarth then asked about the building division’s revenue decline relative to its staff.
Kloss and City Manager Robert Strope confirmed that the staff is about the same as in 2007 despite a drastic decline in revenue.
One idea raised to cut expenses was to combine efforts with other counties.
“I think it’s wise to look at that,” Kloss said. With the distance to cover, though, Kloss said it could be difficult to handle all the inspections with fewer people. Kloss did say that it could be cost-effective to bring certification services — offered through the community college system — to La Grande rather than sending people to Salem or Bend for certifications.
Bozarth suggested bringing in private contractors to do inspections, an idea Kloss did not think is best.
“I’ve never been supportive of a private company regulating industry,” Kloss said.
Lackey and Bozarth, intent on finding ways to avoid fee increases, suggested the building division focus efforts on scheduling — only going to certain areas on certain days to save on mileage — and requiring appointments.
Any changes to the building division’s operating plan would have to be submitted to the state for approval, Kloss said. The state requires certain operating hours and standards that could limit such scheduling arrangements.
“Do you have people come to the front desk with a plan and after they see how much it’s going to cost (in fees) and decide not to do it?” Mayor Dan Pokorney asked toward the end of the session.
“No, I can’t say that I’ve ever seen that happen,” Kloss said. “The important work that we do is safety. ...We don’t apologize for that. It’s a fee that provides a viable service to our
In addition to getting approval from the state, any changes to the fee schedule would also need approval from the county commissioners.