Largo officials did something the other day that was a small gesture, but demonstrated a special sensitivity to the struggles of business owners in this recession. City commissioners voted unanimously to eliminate fees charged to certain businesses for fire inspections.
This does not mean that the businesses will not be inspected. Routine inspections of commercial structures are vital in a densely developed area like Pinellas and should continue on a regular schedule in Largo.
However, the city will no longer charge fees to inspect low-risk buildings such as offices and certain small businesses. Previously, they had to pay $35 to $75 for their periodic fire inspections, which was supposed to offset the city's cost of employing inspectors.
But business owners were upset about having to pay for inspectors from the Largo Fire Department to walk through their low-risk buildings. And the fees were not high enough to offset the city's costs.
"It just didn't seem right at this time" to continue to charge the fees, said Largo Fire Marshal Edward Mullins.
The businesses won't be charged a fee, even if the inspectors find something wrong and have to come back to make sure it got fixed. But if the property owner doesn't fix the problems, the business owner will be charged fines.
This seems a fair approach, as long as the city is willing to absorb the cost of continuing to inspect these low-risk structures.
Even in office buildings, inspections need to continue to make sure that fire extinguishers are up to date, paper and other products are stored safely, and exits are properly marked and maintained. Safety should not be sacrificed to save business owners some dollars.
Structures that have a higher risk still will be inspected annually and still will have to pay the fees that help cover the cost of those more complex inspections, city officials said.
The fees the city charged for inspecting low-risk properties were not high enough to break the businesses, but that is not the point. Every little bit helps. City officials showed that's something they understand.