Members of Columbia County’s Construction Advisory Board will again consider recommendations from county commissioners about a recently-contested change to the permit fee for contractors who begin work without obtaining the proper permits.
In October, commissioners approved the board’s recommended $500 fee for contractors not pulling permits before they began work.
“It’s mostly the subcontractors that are not getting (permits) in a timely manner,” county Administrator Scott Johnson said.
On Jan. 24, a local plumber was hit with the $500 fee after he was asked by a general contractor, who had proper permits, to move some bathroom fixtures. He was in the process of applying for his permit when inspectors arrived.
The plumber told county officials at Public Works Services Committee meeting on Jan. 28 that he thought the fee was too punitive, especially for contractors performing small jobs.
The board revisited the fee and made new recommendations to commissioners at a Feb. 25 committee meeting.
Those recommendations were to make subcontractors working on new homes exempt considering the general contractor has the proper permits and the contractors get permits before inspections.
“It’s just a matter of everybody trying to get ahead of the work, go out and get started and then just pull the permits before they get the first inspection,” Johnson said. “That’s kind of been the way they’ve done business and they are used to that. They don’t want to get away from that.”
The board also suggested that homeowners working on their own homes without permits get charged $250 for the first offense and $500 for subsequent incidents. The board recommended that licensed contractors get a 72-hour grace period to obtain permits after starting work.
Commissioners at the meeting came up with their own ideas to be sent back to the board for further consideration.
Commission Chairman Ron Cross and Commissioners Bill Morris and Charles Allen agreed that 72 hours is too long for a grace period and that a shorter one will allow contractors to start work after hours or on weekends and still obtain permits in a timely manner.
Cross said he got a good idea from a builder to drop the set fee in favor of a graduated fee scale based on the scope of the project.
“Rather than putting a set fee on a penalty if they don’t get a permit, we double or triple the permit fee,” Cross said. That puts a scale depending on the magnitude of the work.”
That way permits obtained late for small projects would cost less than those for large ones.
“I think that graduated scale of penalty would be a better fine than a set fee,” Cross said. “It think that penalty is better than one that is a pre-determined amount.”
The commissioners sent the issue back to the board for further consideration before a decision is made on whether to amend the fee.
In the meantime, Johnson said the Development Services Division staff was told not to suspend the fee, but to tell contractors not in compliance that fees are being accumulated and recorded, but not collected until the issue is resolved.
“We’re working through this,” Johnson said. “We’re not actually taking $500 from everybody until we work this out.”