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The Sanpete Messenger

Ephraim City goes back to county for building permits, inspections

Ephraim City goes back to county for building permits, inspections

 

James Tilson

Staff writer

2-23-2017

 

            EPHRAIM—After a public hearing a couple of weeks ago in which the Ephraim City Council heard criticism of its decision to have Sunrise Engineering do building inspections, the Ephraim City Council voted last week to return to using the county building inspector.

            The public hearing occurred on Feb. 8. Ephraim City Mayor Richard Squire opened the hearing by explaining why the change had been made.

            “We were experiencing a gap in services between what we needed and what the county was providing,” Squire said.

            He said that the main problem was the county was not informing the city when the final inspection would occur so the city could send a representative to the site to make sure the building complied with city zoning requirements. In one case, the city representative not being present led to a lawsuit.

             “We tried repeatedly to work out communication with the county and were unable to work things out,” Squire said.

            Ben Gordon, a local developer, criticized the building permit fee increases that came along with the switch to Sunrise. “These increases do hurt. They hurt a lot of people.”  He said many of his clients are retirees, who want to be near the temple and still be able to shop at Walmart. The increase in costs reduces their ability to qualify for a mortgage.

            “A $2,000 increase, they can’t handle it,” Gordon said. “They get bottlenecked at the bank.”

            Hans Rasmussen, small contractor, praised the county building inspector. “I want the oversight. The guys at the [county] building department are fair. They are another set of eyes. It’s nice to have them out.”

            Todd Alder, of Todd Alder Construction, cited the fact that Sunrise Engineering is based in Fillmore, whereas the county building inspector is in Manti. “Distance can be a barrier” in certain situations, he said, such as when he is pouring footings, or in certain weather conditions, when he needs an inspection right away. “The county, because its closer, can offer a little more convenience.”

            Councilman John Scott weighed in to justify a potential change. “Contractors are important to the city. We don’t want to raise costs.”  But the gaps in service needed to be addressed, he emphasized. “Five hundred feet away from city hall, a business moved in [to a new building] without an occupancy permit.”

            But Scott ended by suggesting a compromise might be needed. “Maybe we need to separate blight and safety issues from permits and new construction.”

            On Wednesday, Feb. 15 at the regular city council meeting, the council turned to Bryan Kimball, director of community development, for the city staff recommendation.

            Kimball said after the public hearing, the city staff had “looked around” at other government entities in Utah to re-evaluate their position, especially on fees.

            Kimball and other staff spoke to staff in other counties and municipalities with similar demographics to see where Ephraim fell in relation to them.

            Ephraim currently charges $3,300 for a typical building permit. San Juan County charges $2,659. Wayne County charges $2,000, and Sevier County charges $3,053. The city of Richfield charges $3,300.

            After looking at the other entities, and considering the comments made at the public hearing, Kimball said the city staff recommended a reduction in the city building permit fee to $2,246. Kimball noted that the new fee would be less than the industry standard, but would still cost more than what the county charged, at $1,632.

            Tracy Christensen, the Sanpete County building inspector, was present. Scott asked him whether the county could resume permit issuance and inspection of new Ephraim construction. Christensen replied that he did not think it would be a problem.

            Scott then motioned for the city to go back to having the county issue building permits and perform building inspections for Ephraim City and to discontinue using Sunrise Engineering for those services. The motion passed unanimously.