FULTON, NY – The Fulton Common Council addressed a modest sized crowd at the most recent council meeting (June 7) to gather public opinion for the proposed rate change for building permit and other fees.
Ultimately, the council unanimously passed the rate increase but not before hearing the reasoning behind the decision and public opinion on both sides of the discussion.
“We’re very concerned, we don’t want our fees to be way up higher than other cities, we’re definitely not the highest. In 2005, we lowered them in hopes that it would bring a whole bunch of people in, but it didn’t,” said Mayor Ronald Woodward Sr.
Mayor Woodward asked Joe Fiumara, Director of Code Enforcement and Executive Director of the Fulton Community Development Agency to further explain the background of the decision to raise fees.
In January, the city made changes to the codes department and thoroughly looked into where the department spends the most of its time doing code enforcement, he explained.
According to Fiumara, they found that most of the fees the city was charging for some of the permits were well under the neighboring communities fee charge and more so, they were not covering the expense cost for what the codes department was actually doing.
As an example, he said someone looking to get a building permit for doing a small addition costing $2,000 out of pocket would pay a fee of $14.50.
However, with that same permit, someone from code enforcement would need to inspect the property three separate times to accurately complete the job.
“It didn’t make good business sense for us to keep going out that many times and not charging fees just to cover those expenses,” Fiumara said.
A study found the city was under neighboring communities fees rates by at least 30% and up to 45%.
The proposal submitted, he said, doesn’t raise the majority of the fees nearly close to 30% but does offset some of the costs associated to the number of times inspecting the site to help the department becoming closer to self sufficient.
“We’re well under what the state recommended we charge per activity and we’re still under about half the municipalities around us, but we needed something to be done,” Fiumara explained, because the fees haven’t been changed since 2005 when they were lowered.
Rental permit fees increased from $30 to $50 per unit, an increase derived from the amount of time and effort and what the actual cost is in materials for the codes department’s work including sending out notices for rental permit renewals, inspections for the rental units, file the rental permits and everything associated with them, said Fiumara.
One member of the public, a local contractor, Joe Trovato addressed the council with concern regarding the rate hike for a rental permit fee.
Trovato said the increase may be “a little steep” as it will now cost $100 for a 2 unit rental, saying $50 per unit “might be out of touch.”
Believing $30 was reasonable for a permit seeing as the inspection he recently received for a rental unit took less than an hour, Trovato said $40 per unit would be “tolerable.”
“Someone that owns multiple apartments or something like that, they’re just going to pass that on to their tenants to begin with,” he said. “As far as a building permits, we don’t want to scare the people from even pulling a permit,” he continued, as he believes that some people would rather take the chance at getting caught than pay an increased fee.
Trovato also pointed out that the code enforcement employees are employees of the city, essentially paid by tax payers to carry out these very actions such as inspections as part of their job duties, to also charge a heavier fee rate for those activities may be a bit of “double dipping,” he said.
The Mayor reminded Trovato and those in attendance that a rental permit fee is good for five years, which actually equates to $10 per year at a fixed rate of $50 for five years.
“For years, the landlords have taken advantage of Fulton because its a lot easier to come here and do whatever they wanted than go to Oswego where they hold your foot to the fire. You’ve got a good deal here,” the Mayor responded.
County Legislator, Frank Castiglia Jr. held a similar stance saying, “fees are just another form of tax,” a statement he also made to Oswego County Today in a Letter to the Editor submission posted just before the public hearing, that was later responded to by Fourth Ward alderman, Jim Myers.
The article stirred up some controversy at the meeting as it made personal future predictions that the council deemed as false. In the submission, Castiglia claimed that at some point in time, he believes the city will charge the public to swim in the lake and will be putting parking meters downtown, a progression from raising the fees for the codes department.
“You haven’t got one good thing to say for the city,” said Myers.
Castiglia pointed out his recent compliment to the city with the changes in the codes department and finished with, “We’re really off subject now.”
“Contrary to what you may have read,” Fiumara said in regards to the letter, “I’ve been part of the lake committee since the beginning and I’ve never heard of anyone talk of ever charging a fee for the beach or anything like that, we want to just reopen it for the public.”
Castiglia made it clear that he personally believes this is something that will happen at some point as he does not foresee where the money will come from to maintain the beach, not something that has been ultimately decided.
Then, back to speaking in regards to the fees increase, Castiglia said, “People in the city of Fulton don’t need added fees put on their backs, and that’s all I’m going to say on the matter.”
A few members of the public had an opposing view on the matter from Trovato and Castiglia.
“I’m personally glad you’re revisiting the fee structure,” said Dennis Merlino. “I’m glad we’re moderating it and working toward a balance so the people who are using it are the ones paying for it.”
Another member of the public agreed, “I don’t think its fair to put that burden on all tax payers to service a few,” said Linda DeForest.
One other member said, “It’s been artificially low for too long. Renting properties is a business, you have to pay to have a business. I’m very pleased to hear that we’re trying to gain momentum with a new codes department, it does need the money.”
Fiumara noted, “We’re not trying to burden anybody, we’re just trying to cover some of the cost.”
The increase in building permit and rental permit fees was unanimously passed by the council before they went on to address the remainder of a busy agenda.
The council also unanimously approved the sale of two residential properties on North Third Street and West Third Street.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve heard a lot of positive comments about the housing stock in the city of Fulton,” said Oswego County Legislator, James Karasek. “Each time you gentleman flip one of those properties and those are rehabbed, it increases your overall assessment and eventually that will begin to take some of the pressure off of the tax rate…. You need to toot your own home on this one and once again, thank you.”
The council announced the advertisement for bids for the gasoline and diesel fuel for the city of Fulton to be submitted to the City Clerk’s office in the Municipal Building on or before June 20 at 2p.m. to be opened the same day.
Similarly, the council announced the winning bid for the 2016 tree maintenance was awarded to Midstate Lawn and Tree Service with the lowest bid at $11,574 and recommendation from the DPW. The 2016 stump removal bid was also awarded to Midstate Lawn and Tree Service with the lowest bid of $5,205 and recommendation from the DPW.
Finally, the council approved intermunicipal agreements with the Fulton City School District and the Town of Hannibal Highway Department.
“We want to be able to share services with other municipalities as much as possible,” said Mayor Woodward.
The agreement generally allows municipalities to share equipment and operators to go along with it as needed and typically costs no money, he explained. The city currently has agreements with the town of Granby, the town of Volney, the city of Oswego and the county of Oswego, he added.