Council seeks public consultation into building permit fees

·5 min read

Tiny Township council wants public input to guide its decision in potentially increasing building permit fees over the next few years.

The direction to staff came out of a recent committee of the whole meeting during which a consultant from Watson & Associates Economists Ltd. presented a report, recommending a 2% annual increase in building permit fees to make up for adminstrative costs and to build a reserve fund.

The report also recommended creating more elaborate categories for building activities that may require permits.

"Currently, we want to create some additional categories to better reflect what the actual project is and to give owners a break in some cases," said Shawn Persaud, director of planning and development.

"For example, if a farm building is 10,000 square feet, versus a farm building that is 500 square feet, before we had one fee that captured all of those. Now we're trying to break it out and better differentiate the project to the actual line of work that is used to complete it for us."

But council members wanted more information and feedback from township residents before making a decision.

"I'm trying to understand how a part-model trailer, that's a manufactured unit would require $2,558 worth of attention when a deck/shed would be $179, when even a deck requires several levels of inspection," asked Coun. Tony Mintoff. "I'm kind of curious about the relativity of those two numbers."

Sean-Michael Stephen, who was representing the consultant company, explained that the Building Code Act requires the fees to be justified by the overall level of the administration required for the enforcement of the code.

"There's no requirement to justify the cost of an individual permit relative to that fee, but only at the overall level of the code level that you're covering those anticipated costs," he said.

Having said that, Stephen added, municipalities have the ability to set fees for certain applications at levels that are greater than the actual cost of the individual permit, to recover shortfalls they would expect to see on more minor building permits.

"Part of the reason is to encourage (residents) to apply," he said. "If you set the fee of a minor deck/shed repair at the full cost, no one would come in for that permit because it would be prohibitive. You want to encourage compliance with activity so the fee for a minor deck repair/shed is minor but the cost is far greater."

Mintoff said he wasn't convinced if the information around building permit fees for single home builds provided in the report was an accurate snapshot for comparative purposes.

Stephen explained that it's helpful to recognize that different municipalities will have different levels of development activity in other categories, which may help them recover the full costs or contribute to surplusses.

"As well, where currently the township's fees are already achieving roughly the full cost of service and providing for that long-term sustainability with only inflationary increases, some of these (other) municipalities may not have developed fees in such a way that they're providing for that longer-term term reserve funds and sustainability," he said.

Mayor George Cornell asked if the building department has the option of looking elsewhere in the corporation for subsidies and not funding the total departmental costs through building fees.

Stephen said the building permit process is supposed to be self-funded.

Coun. Gibb Wishart had some insight into that aspect.

"I am somewhat involved in the process here," he said. "It is well-known that the municipalities that have lower costs from a building standpoint, tax their general public to fund the shortfall. You get an inexpensive process to build your house and have it inspected but the little lady down the street is supporting the costs of inspection.

"Our building department does not depend on the general taxpayer to fund its services," added Wishart. "And that's a philosophy you have to decide whether you like it or not. If you want the general public to help fund the building department, then you can charge lower fees. If you don't want the general public to be burdened with the funding of the building department, then you charge a fee that is appropriate for the building department to get the job done."

Joceline Roi-Pattison, chief building official, confirmed that some fees, such as enforcement, are covered through the general tax.

"This year, we've had 77 complaints already in addition to the carryover for last year," she said. "Those are things we aren't getting any building permit revenue on and spend a lot of time on. Some of things are charged to property taxes and those kinds of things. It's a small portion, but we do have some subsidies that come that way."

Stephen said the general tax line of thought might make more sense where development charges are concerned.

"Municipalities do have the ability to choose to impose development charges or not," he said. "However, you do the prescriptive methodology under the Development Charges Act for what the potential development charges costs are. With the Building Code Act, there's that requirement to justify the reason of anticipated cost of the administration portion of the code. There is also the stipulation that it must now operate as a self-funding business."

Coun. Cindy Hastings said it concerned her looking at how high the proposed building permit fees for Tiny were.

"We're the second highest (in the county)," she said. "Maybe we need to look internally and collect some information from our neighbouring municipalities. I just want to make sure we have something to back that up with. If other municipalities indeed partially fund their building department, or if we feel our cost of operating our department is too high.

"I just want to make sure we're prepared going into our public meeting because there will be some pushback for sure," added Hastings.

A public consultation session has been planned for the Nov. 30 council meeting, which will be streamed live online. Those who wish to participate in the meeting can contact the township to register their comment.

Mehreen Shahid, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, OrilliaMatters.com