CRESTVIEW — Having the county's lowest permit fees makes the city attractive to builders, but because the fees don't cover the cost of inspecting new buildings, taxpayers subsidize new construction.
That was the message the Crestview City Council took from city building inspector Jonathan Bilby following his Wednesday afternoon report.
Council members approved of Bilby's efforts to finalize revisions to Crestview's permit fee structure. Under his proposal, the charges should cover the city's costs for mandatory new building inspections and plan reviews.
Bilby, at Council President Robyn Helt’s direction, had looked into eliminating fees for small projects such as a resident's installation of a prefabricated backyard shed.
Though eliminating the fees would take some revenue from the department, the amount would be small, Bilby said.
Crestview's revised permit fee schedule, if adopted by the council, would be less than Fort Walton Beach's fees and "slightly ahead" of, but comparable to, Okaloosa County's.
This pleased Helt, who was concerned that inequities in permit fees could encourage a homebuilder to construct in neighboring county jurisdiction instead of within city limits.
Helt noted that in some neighborhoods, it's not unusual for one house to be within the city while its neighbor is in the county and thus not subject to city property tax.
Bilby consulted with the Building Industry Association while revising the fees and reported he received favorable feedback. Builders have accepted permit fees as part of construction costs, and often expressed surprise that Crestview's fees were so low, he said.
Councilmen Thomas Gordon and Mickey Rytman sought Bilby's assurance that revised fees would make the permitting department self-sustaining.
Currently, the department's expenses are subsidized by the taxpayer-funded general fund. Rytman wanted to make sure the revised fees would not be a "moneymaker."
Bilby said by state law, all fee money must be used to support building inspection. However, excess funds could be used as a reserve if a dip in the economy causes fee intake to decrease.
"My goal is to not take in more fees than we can operate with," Bilby said, adding he doesn't want to return before the council within a year because of a shortfall.
Bilby plans to present his final recommendation during an upcoming council meeting. His goal is to have council approval and the revised fee schedule in place by the start of the Oct. 1 fiscal year.
Contact News Bulletin Staff Writer Brian Hughes at 850-682-6524 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cnbBrian.