BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando Builders Association says it wants to keep the county building department solvent. And if that means raising some fees, it's willing to support those increases.
The association said Thursday that the Hernando County Commission should approve a plan to raise some permit fees for remodeling and take other cost-cutting measures.
In a statement, the association formally asked the commission to approve a fee increase proposal set for review Tuesday so the department can support itself.
"Since Hernando County has lower costs for these types of permits than surrounding areas, the raising of these fees to cover the actual cost of the permit makes sense, especially if it means keeping our neighbors and friends at the building department off the unemployment line,'' association president Jeff West was quoted in a news release as saying.
Citing the department's "fiscal distress'' due to the current housing market, county business development director Michael McHugh sought fee increases last month. He explained that an analysis of what was spent to process the permits showed that single-family residence permit costs paid for the processing, but the permit fees for some remodeling jobs did not generate enough money to cover the costs of inspections and processing.
As an "enterprise fund," the building department must generate fees to cover its expenses. It does not receive property tax money.
After some discussion, the County Commission asked for more information and some changes in the proposal.
Based on those requests, McHugh will bring a different plan to the commission Tuesday. It proposes some scaled-back fee increases, a recommendation for employees to continue to work a shortened work week and a reduction in the amount the building department would owe the county's general fund for administrative services.
The original proposal was to increase fees from $50 to $85 for Group I permits, including above-ground pools and door and window replacements; from $100 to $135 for Group II permits, including boat lifts and docks; from $150 to $200 for Group III permits, including in-ground swimming pools and residential structure demolition, and from $300 to $325 for Group IV permits, including mobile home set-up and placing a single-family home.
The new proposal would set a $30 increase for groups I and II and a $50 increase for groups III and IV, implemented in two phases. So fees would increase $15 or $25, respectively, on June 1, and another $15 and $25 on June 1, 2011.
In the first year, McHugh estimated an additional $105,000 in revenue would be generated.
Another $8,000 would be generated by increasing miscellaneous commercial permit fees from $50 to $75.
The new proposal also asks the union-represented staff to vote to continue a 35-hour work week into the new fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 unless a longer work week is needed to handle increased business. That is expected to save another $134,000.
In addition, McHugh is asking the commission to approve a deferral or waiving of 50 percent of the annual cost allocation that the building department pays to the county's general fund for the use of county administrative services. That would save the building department another $165,000.
McHugh had told the commission that the added dollars are needed because the building department has been burning through its reserves to make ends meet, and those reserves are now at a critical level.
He also noted that the department is operating at bare bones and cannot afford to lose professional inspectors representing each of the major trades and core staffers who handle the many tasks for which the department is responsible, from plan reviews to enforcement.
In its Thursday statement, the builders association voices concern that, if the building department becomes insolvent, a third party would take over the permitting process, causing fees to rise even higher.
"Even though the last thing we need in a housing slump is to raise fees, the HBA feels it is in the best interest of the community to keep a local building department functional,'' West said.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.