County considers permit fee hike

The Bartholomew County commissioners are considering a substantial hike in building permit fees, the first in 23 years.

The increased cost for permits for new building construction, improvements, expansions and inspections received unanimous approval on first reading Monday, but ordinances require two votes, with the second set for Aug. 22.

The section of the ordinance pertaining to commercial, industrial or multiple-family structures has 22 separate rate increases, while the proposals regarding residential structures has 20 proposed permit fee hikes.

A residential building permit for one and two family dwellings would go up from a base of $100 plus 7-cents per square foot – to a base of $200, plus 10-cents per square foot of gross floor area. In these types of projects, the fee will include all required permits.

Additions and remodeling of homes currently require a $50 base fee, plus 7-cents per foot for the permit. But if the ordinance is given final approval, the Bartholomew County Code Enforcement Department would raise the base amount to $150 base, plus 10-cents per square foot. Decks and patios improvements are currently at a minimum $30 base plus 5-cents per square foot. Under the proposal, it would rise to a $75 base, in addition to 7 cents per square foot.

Inspections for various features such as electrical, plumbing, heating and roofing will double from $30 for the first inspection only to $60 for every inspection.

The rise in permit fees is a matter of playing catch-up with neighboring counties, Bartholomew County Chief Code Enforcement Officer Michelle Cox said.

“I hadn’t realized how long it had been (since building permit fees were raised),” Cox said Monday. “Then, a couple of contractors came into our office, pulled me aside and said ‘you kind of need to look this over’.”

The contractors showed Cox documents indicating that building permit fees in the Columbus area are perhaps the least expensive in the region, she said.

Commissioner Larry Kleinhenz said the building permit fees had “grossly fallen behind the norm,” which commissioners Chairman Carl Lienhoop said the hike was long overdue.

Proposed hikes in building fees for commercial, industrial and multiple-family structures show a similar increase. Those structures currently have a base fee of $200 plus 7-cents per square foot for a permit. Under the proposal, that will go up to $400 plus 10-cents per square foot of floor space.

The suggested new fees also impact a building addition to a commercial, industrial and multiple-family structure. Getting a permit for expansions would rise from a base of $100 plus 7-cents per square feet – to a minimum $300 for the base, in addition to 10-cents per square foot of gross floor area.

In order to determine the new fees, Cox said she and her staff used the cost of building permits in all surrounding counties. The proposed fees are the midpoint of what is charged by those other counties, Cox said.

“That way, we weren’t coming in way high or way low,” she said.

Half of the fees are used to finance the Bartholomew County Code Enforcement Department, while the other half are turned over to Columbus City Hall to help pay for planning expenses.