Source: Sherman Publications

Building fee vote delayed

by Andrea Beaudoin

September 11, 2013

For contractor Brad Pelowski, working on a house in the City of the Village of Clarkston is more trouble than it's worth.

“It’s hard to get a building permit and the fees are high out here,” Pelowski said.

In July, the city council approved paying $500 to have their planning firm, Carlisle-Wortman, conduct a building department study due to numerous complaints and issues, similar to Pelowski’s, with the building department, including the higher than usual fees.

The study concluded that Clarkston's permit and inspection fees were significantly above the average of comparable municipalities, sometimes two or three times as much.

After the study ended, City Council voted to reorganize the department and award building department work to the Carlisle-Wortman firm.

In addition to conducting the study, the firm also recommended a fee schedule, which includes fees the city should charge for building department activities. Carlisle-Wortman also recommended the city adopt lower fees and informed the city they could perform the work for less what the city pays presently.

City council approved awarding the work to Carlisle-Wortman on Aug. 26.

However, at their Sept. 9 meeting, City Council postponed signing the contract because of errors in it, and questions regarding how responsibilities will be handled by the firm and the city.

Clarkston resident Cory Johnston said the city broke every rule when it comes to bidding and procuring, but he isn’t surprised because in his opinion breaking rules has become the norm at city hall.

Johnston said the city ought to have sought bids from a variety of contactors familiar with the same type of work, rather than award the work to the same firm that conducted the study and set the fees.

“The only study of fees they have is from the firm they are going to give the work to without any outside or independent review and presumably only a few minutes of discussion during one council meeting,” said Johnston.

According to the contract proposal, Carlisle-Wortman would act as the city's building department and handle permit applications and inspections. According to the contract the city will pay $600 a month for a retainer fee as well as a one-time fee of $2,500 to reorganize the department.

Councilman Richard Bisio said although he favored revising the fees and obtaining a more professional service for residents, he would have like to see what other firms have to offer, and would have also liked the council to bid out the work.

Johnston said that’s exactly what the city should have done.

“The city continues to act in an unprofessional manner that continues to show their inability to manage or govern fairly and in a professional manner,” said Johnston.

In August, the City council passed a motion made by Bisio directing the city manager and attorney to negotiate a contract that would provide a year-long trial period with Carlisle-Wortman.

Errors in the contract include referring to the city as “the township.” Although the contract states that it will be valid for three years, Bisio recommended a one-year trial period with the firm.

Bisio said the contract needs some significant work before he would approve it.

“I will have a number of questions at the meeting. It looks like a form that was previously used with a township that was not appropriately modified,” he said. “When the council discussed this at the last meeting, it was to be for a trial period of one year. The proposed contract is for three years. That is inconsistent with what we discussed at the last meeting and should be changed.”

According to the contract, “The consultant (Carlisle-Wortman) agreed to provide the city professional building code consultation and administration services.”

Work by the firm will include a wide variety of building department tasks as well as collecting fees and submitting a monthly report to the city.

The City’s now former building inspector Sy Stone had received 70 percent of the building fees the city collected for performing building department work and even though the city charged higher than average fees, it did not pay for retirement or health benefits.

Michael Sabol and Council member Peg Roth moved to adopt the fee schedule immediately, but councilmen Bisio and Eric Haven said no. Bisio recommended a trial period to see if building expenses are covered.

With no guarantee that the new fees will cover the expenses associated with building department work, Bisio said he thinks a contract should be developed in which the City and Carlisle-Wortman would share responsibility if the fee schedule does not cover expenses.

When Eberhardt took the job In April, she told the Clarkston News residents can expect to see changes in the building department.

Stone is the second employee in the last few months whose position has been axed by the city.

In June the council voted to eliminate the Department of Public Works (DPW) Supervisor, give another employee a $6,240 a year raise and made city manager Carol Eberhart head of the department.