Wednesday, June 15, 2011

County approves permit fee rebate

Commissioners say deduction will offset increased costs


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

Homebuilders in unincorporated areas of Blaine County may face increased construction costs due to the county's new energy code, but they also could get a break in building permit fees due to a new rebate program.

Commissioners Tom Bowman and Larry Schoen passed a resolution Monday that allows builders to apply for a credit against building permit fees if the permit requires the builder to get a Home Energy Rating System, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design or other energy performance review.

The county will rebate 50 percent of the building permit fee up to a maximum of $500. Permit fees are determined based on the value of the project, and range from $25 to over $5,000.

"I know there are mixed feelings on this," Schoen said on Monday, referring to Commissioner Angenie McCleary's objections to the resolution during last week's meeting.

McCleary said she objected to the lowered fees because the county is experiencing economic hardship and building permit fees are an important source of county revenue.

Deputy County Clerk Leslie Londos said building permit fees brought just over $270,000 into county coffers for fiscal year 2010, roughly 10 percent of the county's projected revenues for that year.

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The resolution states that the reduced permit fees could increase construction activity, which would raise the total amount of revenue the department received.

McCleary said she didn't think a permit credit would cause enough people to submit applications for permits to make up for the revenue reduction.

Higher costs associated with energy reviews and other energy-saving measures such as hot water heaters and heating systems were cited as a disincentive for builders when the energy code was approved in February.

The stricter standards, known as the BuildSmart amendments, require most new construction to comply with certain Home Energy Rating System scores, which determine how energy-efficient a home is.

A copy of the code is available at www.blainecounty.org, under the land use and building services tab under the title "BuildSmart Amendments."

Opponents argued that stricter codes would raise construction costs, stifle development and drive second-home owners out of the county. Schoen suggested lowering the county's building permit fees in response.

Schoen said the rebate program has only been approved through May 2012, as a test to determine if the rebate does encourage construction.

Credit can be applied for through the county Land Use and Building Services Office in the county annex building in Hailey.

Katherine Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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