Fri12192014

Last updateThu, 18 Dec 2014 3pm

Back You are here: Home Editorial Editorials Ill will toward city permit fees

Editorials

Ill will toward city permit fees

By Susan Reeves

The Optic-Herald recently received a letter signed by City Manager Lee Elliott blaming the newspaper for all the ill will related to the city permit fees. He stated that the editorial written in June 2010 was the root cause of the problem.

It has been the job of newspapers to notify citizens of governmental actions since the United States Constitution was ratified by the states in 1788. The newspaper may have brought the issue to the attention of the citizens, but the subsequent unrest has been perpetuated by the City.
All the hoopla is centered around the City of Mount Vernon outsourcing its building inspection function because it could not afford the salary of a qualified inspector. Bureau Veritas in Plano, who according to Mr. Elliott is one of the best companies in the inspection business, was contracted to take over those duties for the City. With that action came an increase in fee cost that in some cases went up 900 percent. The permit fee to replace an air conditioning system went from $20 in 2009 to $179 in June 2010 and is now $168. The steep increase is what upset the citizens.
The council revisited the situation in January and lowered some of the fees. The City removed fences, roofs, and driveways out of the general permits and set a $25 fee for those. It also set a cap of $60 for senior citizen’s homestead property. That action has eased some of the tension, but many are still grumbling about the other fees.
Regularly, when questions are raised about the permit fees, Mr. Elliott and members of the council turn the discussion to all the hard work and good things they have enacted in the past several years. Getting the water pipes replaced, doing projects at the water treatment plant and the sewer treatment plant, using solar panels and selling excess energy back to the grid, and building up our police fleet have been accomplished without raising taxes. That is all great and their work is appreciated on those fronts.
Mr. Elliott has explained that the change to the permitting function came out of the City’s attempt to departmentalize revenues and expenses. The goal was to have water and sewer service income cover that department’s cost, and have other cost centers do the same. Fees and rates were adjusted so that those who utilize certain services pay for them. Through this action, the city council lowered the tax rate by 12.9 percent. Council members seem to be bewildered that citizens have not jumped up and down with excitement.
Overall, the average citizen has not enjoyed much of a cost savings from the council’s actions. A person owning property appraised at $100,000 would have paid $666.04 in 2008 for city taxes. In 2009, it would have been $700.78, and it was $621.48 in 2010. That is almost $80 in savings this year, but only $40 from the previous year. In 2010, a new monthly fee of $3 for residential and $6 for commercial properties was added to everyone’s water bill to deal with storm water runoff. That $36/$72 per year fee helps the water/sewer department fund its operation. For those who have had to pay a permit fee, there is not any saving.
The need for doing inspections and keeping the citizens safe is an obvious one. People have not objected to the need for a permit. They have objected to the cost of current permit fees in comparison with other communities in the East Texas area.
Mr. Elliott has said that the City looked into utilizing inspectors from area cities, but they would not commit to performing the site visits in a timely manner.
Basically, the whole argument comes down to two choices. One, paying a higher fee with a 24 hour commitment to conduct inspections so that projects can continue without delay. Or, two, paying a lower fee and dealing with inspection delays. The citizens are not happy with either solution.

Comments  

 
#1 RE: Ill will toward city permit feesanonymous 2011-04-07 16:10
The city council apparently has all the money in the world.
They are not thinking about the senior citizens, who have limited funds to live off of.
Quote
 
 
#2 citizenOscar Elliott 2011-04-08 18:20
Susan- I wanted to thank you for your editorial in this week's Optic Herald. It was well written, factual and properly restrained (but not too restrained). I always enjoy your paper but sometimes it skirts all around an issue because, I think, this is a small town and the Optic chooses to avoid confrontation. Occasionally, confrontation is the only thing that jump-starts a problem being resolved. It first requires collecting all the complaints, truths/untruths , innuendos, he said/she saids and dump them out on the table just to see what is there. Your editorial did that and I applaud you for it.
Quote
 
 
#3 Senior CitizensSusan 2011-04-11 09:35
To anonymous: The city did re-think about senior citizens. They came back and set a $60 cap for any permit needed whether it be for construction, replacing their HVAC, or anything else.
Quote
 
 
#4 RE: Ill will toward city permit feesanonymous 2011-04-12 19:45
Great editorial, Susan!! Time to get new council members AND a new city manager.
Quote
 
 
#5 RE: Ill will toward city permit feesAnonymous 2011-04-14 10:45
Reading and hearing about all of the recent happenings with the City Council and City Office, makes me understand why I am hearing so many people that live in the city limits say they would love to move outside the city limits. Makes me think it is definitely time for new Council members that have the concerns of the citizens as a priority.
Quote
 
 
#6 RE: Ill will toward city permit feesanonymous 2011-04-18 10:48
does anyone know why the glass door is being put in at City Hall? Who's paying?
Quote
 
 
#7 RE: Ill will toward city permit feestaxpayer 2011-05-03 04:07
Does anyone know how much of the revenue from the Plano inspection company comes back to Mt. Vernon? What would the salary be for an inspector if the city hired locally? It is my understanding that the city manager is paid a generous salary, could he be trained to be an inspector, which would solve the problem....no waiting for inspections. How many permits are sold per month?
Quote
 
 
#8 RE: Ill will toward city permit feesvoter 2011-05-03 04:38
Susan, do you know who hired Bureau Veritas? Were other bids considered or did the city even open the opportunity for other bids? Does any member or owner of Bureau Veritas know any of the council members or the city manager personally? Plano is a great distance to go to contract a company to work in the Mt. Vernon area. How do the city manager know that Bureau Veritas is 'one of the best inspection companies in the business'? I find it odd that the council contracted with a company that has an annual revenue of $5 to 10 million and even odder that they need Mt. Vernon's business. Just curious.
Quote
 
 
#9 RE: Ill will toward city permit feesCraig 2011-05-05 11:05
By raising fees, the city is discouraging property owners from improving properties. There are many rental properties in the city and landlords will choose to allow proerties to stay unimproved and generally decrease the value of properties in the neighborhood.
Quote
 
 
#10 CriticismJim Taggart 2011-05-31 14:02
As regards Mr. Elliotts response to your editioral, I'm reminded of the coloquialism: Hit dog always howls!
Quote
 
 
#11 RE: Ill will toward city permit feesAppalled 2011-06-21 15:39
Craig, if you are worried that these fees were what was keeping ppl from improving their rental properties you can rest a little easier knowing that long before the fees were an issue, they were NOT improving any of their properties around town anyway. Just ride around town and pay a little closer attention to some of these properties. I believe John Tutor pointed out a year or so ago some of our "slums" in town are actaully owned by some fairly well established men and women in our town. I don't think the fees were so much a problem with the up-keep, it was that the owners were greedy and didn't want to spend it. Maybe the ppl of Mount Vernon should start asking and paying closer attention to the owners of the properties before jumping on the band wagon of "unaffordable rates". Because they weren't doing a darn thing with these properties BEFORE the fees were established. Should I name names or are you ppl old enough to start asking who owns these slums around town on your own?
Quote