By Rich Pollack
As the cost of renovating a bathroom, making improve-ments to a condo building or even building a new home has increased due to skyrocketing material costs, so too has the cost of obtaining most building permits in Highland Beach.
Now there’s some relief in sight for property owners concerned by the rising prices for improvement or construction projects.
From now until Sept. 30, property owners requesting building permits will see a 10% reduction in most permit costs thanks to a unanimous Town Commission vote last month approving the discount.
“This is the town basically saying to residents that we know you have increased costs and we don’t want to make money on those increased costs,” said Mayor Doug Hillman, who introduced the idea of temporarily reducing building permit fees after hearing from a concerned resident. “We don’t want to make money as a result of increases in people’s expenses.”
In Highland Beach, building fees are based on a percentage of the work being done under the permit. It is 2.5% up to $500,000 and 2% over $500,000.
Should a homeowner be doing $10,000 of plumbing work on a bathroom renovation, for example, the cost of the plumbing permit before the change would have been $250. With the 10% reduction the charge will be $225.
If electrical work is being done for the same renovation, the cost of that permit will also drop by 10%.
Some individual projects such as replacing an air-conditioning unit or a hot water heater have small fees, with the minimum building permit fee formerly being $100. It will now be $90.
“This reduction won’t result in significant savings on smaller projects but on the larger projects the saving could be significant,” Town Manager Marshall Labadie said.
While the discount will be available for most projects, there are some exceptions.
It will not be applied to reinspection following failed inspections, nor will it be available for projects started without a permit.
During discussion of the discount, commissioners made it clear that they wanted to keep the reduction for only six months, until the new fiscal year. Between now and then, commissioners will review the rate structure to determine if changes are needed.
“We want to make sure that our fees cover the cost of the services and recognize the future volatility in the workload,” Labadie said, adding that the town is seeing an increase in permits requested.
The town staff will also look at building fees charged by neighboring and comparable municipalities, he said.
Hillman said that “our intent when we set building fees is to cover our costs and for the building department to make enough money to cover the administrative costs allocated to it.”
Labadie said Highland Beach is in a strong position to offer the discount because it has enough reserves in the building department fund to cover department costs.
While discussing the discount, commissioners agreed that giving residents a break on building fees had little downside.
“This is a generous way of recognizing the reality of the world we’re in now,” Commissioner John Shoemaker said. “It’s a gesture of goodwill from the town.”