Township approves building department hike, then reneges at bylaw

Council here took an unusual step Dec. 12 when it held a public meeting, then passed a resolution to enact a bylaw, passed the first and second reading of that bylaw – then  suddenly defeated it on the final reading.

Council defeated a bylaw to accept construction, demolition, and change of use permits and inspections fees for the building department. Passing that bylaw would have also automatically repealed the current bylaws.

Instead they will remain in place after a 5-1 final vote against the bylaw – for now.

Prior to that bylaw vote, council held a public meeting to consider increases of 3.8 per cent in fees for 2012

Building inspector Bob Foster noted there had been no increase this past year.

When the public meeting opened and Foster presented his recommendations, councillor Steve VanLeeuwen said it had been “a main campaign issue” that building fees are too high.

He said, “I don’t see a comparison chart” with fees levied by other municipalities.

Foster said there had been a study several years ago and legislation now requires users pay the cost of services. He said Centre Wellington had hired a consultant several years ago to study building and permit fees, and, “We’ve been following that study ever since.”

He said the fee increase would pay for administration costs and the building code, and that report is part of his submission.

Foster said the consultant stated fees should be adjusted annually, and equal costs of the building department.

“Up to now, it’s not been paying for itself,” he said, adding that meant it has not been able to establish reserves.

Foster said one reason is the high cost assessed to the department. Studies done as far back as 2004 assigned his department charges for such things as information technology, and the department was assessed by the percentage of the computers it had then. Today, he said, that percentage is “out of whack.” His department has the same number of computers it had then, while other  departments have many more.

“We should be lower; that was never done,” he said.

Foster said the fees he is proposing are similar to places like Woolwich, Wilmot, and North Dumfries Townships in the Region of Waterloo, as well as Guelph and Kitchener-Waterloo.

As for fees farther north, “I can’t say.”

VanLeeuwen wondered if yearly increases are going to fix the problem of obtaining a surplus for the department. He said one of the main focuses for people he talked to were development charges.

Foster said, “We hear the same issues.”

Councillor Kelly Linton asked Foster if he had talked to developers about the fees, considering there were none at the public meeting.

Foster said he sent notices to a number of associations, and only one had bothered to comment, and that developer wanted assurance the building industry is not paying for such things as heritage.

Councillor Kirk McElwain questioned the increase of 3.8% for fees. He said those are supposedly based on the cost of living, but he was unsure what one year period Foster used to reach that figure, since such costs are much lower. “Last year, it never increased at all,” he said.

Treasurer Wes Snarr said the increase is because of a number of factors. There is a 2.1% pay increase at the township, plus it has to pay increased pension costs, among other things.

He said this year the township could legitimately charge an increase of 4.8%, but instead opted for 1% lower.

Snarr added the increase is not based on Statistics Canada cost of living figures.

Councillor Fred Morris asked Foster when he expected to actually reach a point where the department would have a surplus.

Foster said it has been difficult the last few years because of the economy, but he hopes to show a surplus of about $100,000 by next year. He added the township will “probably do 200 units this year.”

Morris said he is concerned, and the township should “tread carefully” because while it has a captive market in one sense, developers can go elsewhere if costs climb too high.

Mayor Joanne Ross-Zuj said developers frequently visit the municipal office, but the township has heard almost nothing against its fee proposal.

VanLeeuwen contacted a few building associations, and said their secretaries were surprised there was a public meeting scheduled that night.

Foster said he would be going to a meeting of developers in January about changes to the building bylaw and occupancy permits, because of developers do not comply with those they could face “severe penalties.” There are also changes in energy efficiency requirement and more inspections coming through the province.

“We’ll try to make do this year without adding more building department staff,” he said. He added that from now on, all septic systems will need to be inspected every five years.

VanLeeuwen said builders he talked with thought the public meeting would be in January. He said it did not surprise him no one had attended the meeting that night.

Councillor Walt Visser said he had spoken with three developers, and “They were aware it was tonight.”

Council then closed the public meeting.

Later in the meeting, it considered a resolution to execute a new, consolidated building bylaw to enact various amendments and revised schedules.

VanLeeuwen asked if it is normal to go from a public meeting directly to a bylaw.

Ross-Zuj said it is.

VanLeeuwen said, “Okay, I’ve said my piece.”

Council then gave first and second reading to the bylaws on its agenda and they carried unanimously. When it came to third reading, though, VanLeeuwen requested that building fees bylaw be considered separately.

Morris noted that VanLeeuwen had wanted a comparison report.

VanLeeuwen said he has opposed to that particular bylaw.

The bylaw was defeated 5-1, with only Visser voting in favor.

Ross-Zuj asked clerk Marion Morris what happens next.

Morris explained that it will now take a two-thirds majority vote to reopen the discussion on that bylaw, and it must be moved by a councillor who voted in favour.

Ross-Zuj said it is a little unusual council had passed a resolution saying it would enact a bylaw and then defeating that bylaw. She said if VanLeeuwen had wanted a comparison chart, it would have been better to ask for a deferral at that point.

The issue is expected to return to council in January.