Electricians May Sue Over Fee Increase Bill

May 23, 1991|By Samuel Goldreich | Samuel Goldreich,Staff writer

A building trade group is threatening legal action to block a countybill that would raise construction permit and inspection fees.

County Executive Robert R. Neall is trying to balance his proposed fiscal 1992 budget on the back of the the building industry, Titus Ashburn, legislative chairman of the Master Electricians Association of Anne Arundel County, charged yesterday.

"This was absolutely a move on the executive's behalf through thebudget department," Ashburn said.

Neall has asked the council to pass a $616.6-million budget that includes almost $5.6 million in miscellaneous fee increases.

The county would take in $131,000 by boosting admissions to parks and raising the free senior admission age from 55 to 62.

Separate legislation covers everything from $743,000for restaurant and other Department of Health inspections to $406,000 for state-mandated improvements to the emergency "911" system.

Most of the fees have prompted little comment from the council.

ButAshburn argues that the county should have notified every certified trade member 60 days before introducing a bill May 1 that would impose $505,000 in fee increases for building, mechanical, electrical and plumbing permits.

The electricians group will meet with its attorney today to consider how to to block action on the bill.

"If we can't come to some terms and delay this thing, we're going to go with an injunction," Ashburn said.

Councilman George Bachman, D-Linthicum, led a majority of the seven-member council in supporting Ashburn'sobjection last Thursday during a hearing on the bill.

But the mechanical code that Ashburn quotes to support his argument says that notification is required 60 days before a bill is implemented, not proposed.

The administration is standing by its position that the county code requires notification only for changes in interpretation, administration or regulations in the mechanical code.

"Why would any government body take fee setting out of its hands?" Myron Wotring, Neall's legislative liaison, asked Tuesday. "It seems to me that fee setting is part of the County Council's responsibility."

Neall proposed an overall 25 percent increase in added revenues by raising fees from building trade permits.

But industry groups complain that 15 of the 29 fees in question would double or more.

For example, the fee for a dry well permit would jump from $15 to $100, a 566.7-percent increase.

Ashburn estimates that the fees would add about $400 to the price of a $100,000 single-family home.

Ashburn objects especially that the county wants to raise the penalty from $15 to $40 forfailing to notify the Department of Inspections and Permits that an electrical job has been completed after a delay.

"We feel like more than half the time it's the county's fault rather than the contractor's fault," he said.

Several council members said at a budget hearing earlier this month that the building trades constantly complain that the inspection department forces delays by mishandling paper work and requests for permits.

Bachman said Tuesday that the mechanical code should be changed to assure that contractors are given noticeabout future proposals to increase fees. But he said he would not try to block Neall's proposal because the county needs the money.

Neall has proposed the county's first no-growth budget, citing a recessionary decline in most revenues other than property taxes.

Bachmansuggested that the county could trim building fees next year if the economy improves.

"That sounds like a nice explanation in the overall sense," Ashburn said. "The only problem is the building trade feels it's going to hurt the industry (this year)."

Richard Alt, of the county's Associated Builders and Contractors, agreed that boostingfees would further burden an industry already battered by the recession.

"If it's going to result in better service, that's one thing," he said yesterday.

"On the other hand, we've had a lot of peoplewho've had to lay workers off already."

But Alt said his group understands the county's need to raise some money and is not prepared to take legal action to block the fee bill.

Instead, he is working with the Anne Arundel Trade Council and the county chapter of the Home Builders Association of Maryland to lobby the council for an amended bill.

The council can offer amendments to the bill any time between today and May 31, when it must adopt a budget.

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