Ephraim will consider modifying building-permit fee hike
EPHRAIM—Ephraim City officials have scheduled a meeting with local contractors this week in response to protests against a steep increase in building permit fees.
The meeting is scheduled for Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. at city hall (after press time).
The new rates were adopted in November 2016 at the same time Ephraim City entered into a contract with Sunrise Engineering, a consulting engineering firm in Fillmore, for a variety of building and housing services, including reviewing plans and issuing building permits.
Hanson said the city was willing to modify the schedule approved in November.
“We still anticipate an increase in fees,” he said. But once modified, the fees “should be less of an impact on builders and homeowners” than the schedule now in effect.
A few weeks ago, Cory and Durke Gordon, Ephraim-based home builders, posted a petition on Change.org calling for Ephraim City to drop its contract with Sunrise Engineering and go back to using Sanpete County for building permit and building inspection services. As of Monday, the petition had attracted 169 signatures.
In an email Tuesday, Hanson said Ephraim “is in a different situation than any other city in the county,” and because of the differences, the city needed to arrange for its own building and housing services.
Recently, he said, the city has responded to numerous complaints about blight and dangerous conditions. It has received complaints from tenants in privately owned student housing about substandard conditions.
“Based on the number of complaints we received… the city needed a building official to address these problems, which often fell outside of the construction services provided under the agreement with the county,” Hanson said.
“The city looked at hiring an in-house inspector but could not offer enough to attract a fully certified building official. Sunrise was selected based on their ability to provide fully certified inspections and building official services on an as-needed basis.”
Ironically, when Ephraim went its own way in building services, the Sanpete County Building Inspector’s Office experienced a sudden drop in revenue.
The county office is required to be self-supporting. But with the revenue drop, it could no longer meet its budget. So on Jan. 17, the Sanpete County Commission raised county building permit and inspection fees for the first time since 2009.
The county rates, which apply to all locations in the county except Ephraim, have gone up an average of 18-percent. But the county charges continue to be lower than the charges Ephraim City adopted in November.
Both the county and Ephraim City use a multi-step formula to calculate the fee for a given building permit.
The first step is estimating the value of the new home or commercial building. The jurisdictions assign a dollar value for finished square footage, another value for unfinished basement space, a value for garage space, and dollar values for other aspects of the project.
For instance, the county values finished space at $68 per square foot, while under the current Ephraim schedule, finished space is worth $89.87 per square feet.
The values for various types of space are added up to get an estimated value for the whole home or commercial project. Based on that value, a base building permit fee is determined.
Then various surcharges are assessed, such as a plan-review fee, fees for having inspectors come to the property, and fees for special plumbing, electrical and mechanical inspections. The county and Ephraim City have different surcharges.
A Sanpete Messenger calculation showed under the county “building permit fee calculator” chart that was in effect from 2009 until last month, a 2,000-square foot home with a 1,000-square-foot unfinished basement and a 450-square-foot garage would have been valued at about $121,750.
The final total for plan review, a building permit and building inspection services for the home would have come to about $1,253.
Under the new county fee schedule adopted in January, the same house would be valued at $159,100 and total permit-related costs would be about $1,493.
But in Ephraim, the same 2,000-square-foot house with an unfinished basement and a garage would be valued at $212,750. And the cost of getting a building permit through Sunrise Engineering, along with inspections, would be $2,945.
That’s what has stirred the ire of the Gordons and others.
“A building permit purchased from the Sanpete County Building Department on Aug. 4, 2016, cost $1,183.57. (The) estimated building permit cost on Jan. 12, 2017 (home of the same value) from Ephraim City, using Sunrise Engineering, (equals) $3,029,” their Change.org petition says.
“Our concern: Price increase with no additional benefit to the homeowner.”
Among signers of the petition was Shalise Watkins of Ephraim, who wrote, “I don’t agree with raising the price of something that can be done for cheaper with the same outcome.”
Another Ephraim resident, Heidi Rasmussen, wrote, “Our county building inspectors do a great job. My husband deals with them often. They go above and beyond. If something’s not broke…don’t fix it.”