Originally created 01/20/99

Building OKs get costlier



Augusta commissioners voted Tuesday to raise building-permit fees 50 percent, despite a request from the Builders Association of Augusta spokesman to delay action.

The fee increases were built into the 1999 city budget and are expected to raise $300,000 a year, city officials said. Commissioners must now approve the increases by amending the city code regarding building fees.

The builders' association opposes the fee increases and believes they are illegal, developer Ben Brush Sr. said. He asked the board to delay voting on them until his group could get a ruling from Georgia's attorney general.

Mr. Brush read a section of state law stating that no local government is authorized to use regulatory fees to raise money for general governmental purposes.

"This has been interpreted in the past to mean that the revenue generated from building permits should stay in the department and used to run the department," Mr. Brush said, referring to the city's licensing and inspection department.

To raise revenue for other causes, "even though they're worthy causes," is not right or legal, he said.

Raising fees 50 percent threatens the building industry, Mr. Brush said.

City Attorney Jim Wall said building permit fees are not regulatory fees.

Augusta commissioners also gave Mr. Wall a raise during Tuesday's meeting. They raised the hourly rate for Mr. Wall and his law partners to $100 an hour from $85 an hour and the rate for his associates to $85 an hour.

The last time Mr. Wall's hourly fee was increased was in 1994. Tuesday's raise is an adjustment for inflation, he said.

In an unrelated matter, commissioners concurred with last week's Richmond County Planning Commission action to designate stretches of two more roads as special sign control areas, despite requests from advertising representatives to delay the action.

The Augusta Commission designated corridors 1,000 feet wide on either side of Gordon Highway from Bobby Jones Expressway to Gate 1 at Fort Gordon and along Doug Barnard Parkway from Tobacco Road to Gordon Highway as sign control districts.

The designation means there won't be any billboards along those stretches of road and there will be control of on-site signs for businesses.

The height of signs will be limited to 20 feet. The size of the signs and type of lighting will be limited, said Planning Commission Director George Patty.

Sylvia Cooper covers Richmond County government for The Augusta Chronicle. She can be reached at (706) 823-3228 or sylviaco@augustachronicle.com.