Oak Bluffs considers building permit fee hike

Oak Bluffs building permit fees are among the lowest in the state. — Courtesy of Oak Bluffs Building

Citing a sharply increased demand for building permits and the burgeoning workload on the Oak Bluffs building department, Building Inspector Mark Barbadoro petitioned selectmen to increase building permit fees to fund a new full-time local inspector/zoning enforcement officer and technology improvements in the department.

Mr. Barbadoro made his case to the selectmen at their regular meeting on Tuesday night with a trove of information in a PowerPoint presentation.

“Some people don’t like the idea of raising fees, but the purpose behind the increase is to allocate the cost of the service to the person who benefits,” he said. “A builder is the beneficiary of the permit, and he should be paying for the service, not a little old lady on a fixed income who doesn’t do work on her house.”

Mr. Barbadoro showed the number of building permits issued in the town more than doubled between 2012 and 2014, from 569 to 1,117. He expects that number to increase again in 2015.

“This is partially due to economic growth and a decrease in permit turnaround time,” he said.

Pay to build

Mr. Barbadoro did a survey of building permit fees for 100 towns in eastern and central Massachusetts, using the most recent International Code Council (ICC) Building Valuation Data (BVD). The BVD is a national average, updated every six months, that factors current economic conditions, the type of building, and the materials which are used. Mr. Barbadoro said its inherent flexibility and uniformity is a better measure than square footage or building valuation, which encourage builders to lowball the overall cost of the project.

Using BVD, he found that the Oak Bluffs permit fee is in the bottom 8 percent of the state. “Thirty-four percent are at $10 per thousand, or 1 percent of the total construction costs for the project; Oak Bluffs is below $3 per thousand right now,” he said.

Using the BVD metric, Mr. Barbadoro calculated the permitting cost in Oak Bluffs at $2.84 per thousand-dollar valuation, Edgartown at $2.66, Chilmark at $3.73, Tisbury at $3, and West Tisbury at $2.66. Permitting in Nantucket currently costs $8.8 per thousand-dollar valuation, and the Cape average is about $10.
The building permit fee in Oak Bluffs is currently a $300 minimum plus 30 cents per square foot, according to the town website. The permit fee for a new 2,000-square-foot home in Oak Bluffs is $900. The same permit would cost $750 in Edgartown, $500 in Chilmark, and $1,000 in West Tisbury, according to rates posted on town websites. Tisbury building inspector Ken Barwick told The Times that the permit would cost $1,500 using the town’s valuation-based formula.

Under the BVD formula, the permit fee for a 2,000-square-foot house in Oak Bluffs would increase to $1,464.45. “The goal of the proposed new fee is to be about 1 percent of the total construction cost, which is the national average,” Mr. Barbadoro said, adding that since the BVD figure is a national average, builders in Oak Bluffs will pay a relatively smaller amount, since their construction costs can be three times the national average.

The change to BVD-based fee structure would reduce the burden on smaller projects in Oak Bluffs, because the $300 base fee and low square-footage costs favor the larger projects.

“At the same time, a large project creates a much bigger workload in town hall, with multiple board reviews, a four-hour building department review, and eight or more inspections, whereas a deck requires a 10-minute review and only requires two simple inspections,” he said. “The small projects tend to be 1 percent of construction costs, but the large projects tend to be half [of 1 percent] or less. Bigger jobs will pay more because bigger jobs can handle more.”

Mr. Barbadoro estimated the increased permitting fees would generate more than $100,000 for the building department. “It’s a rough estimate, but I’m pretty sure it’s an accurate interpretation,” he said.


Mr. Barbadoro said the fee increase and resultant improvements would enable him to act more quickly on time-sensitive zoning issues, and to do more frequent and thorough inspections. “Edgartown just had two commercial hoods start fires,” he said. “If you don’t do inspections, things get missed. Business inspections help keep people safe, reduce insurance costs, and lower the risk to first responders.”

Mr. Barbadoro pointed out that hiring a full-time local inspector/assistant zoning enforcement officer would also ensure a smooth transition when he leaves the position. “If we hire a local inspector, he or she will be trained and ready to step in if I move on or retire,” he said. Oak Bluffs was without a full-time building inspector last summer and fall, the height of the building season.

Most of the selectmen were receptive to Mr. Barbadoro’s pitch. No one at the meeting could recall the last time permitting fees were increased in Oak Bluffs.

“I think the idea of improving services is paramount,” Selectman Walter Vail said. “We can get our staffing right and pay for it with additional fees, it’s a win-win.”

“I’m totally in favor of this,” Selectman Greg Coogan said. “We were in the position of not having a building inspector, and not having anyone coming in fully certified as an inspector. I think we’re in desperate need of a trained person who can take over when you get old and gray like me. To have it paid for by people who are making large houses makes more sense than someone adding to a small home to make some room for their family.” Selectman Gail Barmakian advised caution. “You’re proposing a dramatic increase, in some cases tenfold,” she said. “Maybe we need to do it slowly.”

Mr. Coogan suggested delaying a vote until the next selectmen’s meeting so the extensive data could be better digested.

Chairman Michael Santoro noted the extra time would also allow the Finance and Advisory Committee (FinCom) to vet the fee increase.

Selectmen agreed to vote on the increase at their next meeting on July 28.

“I always hear two things about Oak Bluffs,” Mr. Barbadoro said in a conversation with The Times on Wednesday. “One, anything goes when it comes to zoning, and two, no permit takes longer to turn around than it does in Oak Bluffs. I need to make that better, but I can’t do it alone.”

FinCom balk

In other business, FinCom and selectmen unanimously voted to appropriate year-end transfers from a wide range of departments to cover a $183,000 deficit in the town operating budget for FY15. $86,000 of the overage is due to the extensive snow and ice removal done by the highway department and independent contractors.

Selectmen rejected the FinCom vote to reject the proposed agreement with the County of Dukes County for services at the newly formed Martha’s Vineyard Senior Services with a 3-1 vote. Ms. Barmakian dissented due to ambiguities in the contract. Selectman Kathy Burton was absent.

“I respect what the board voted,” Mr. Vail said. “I know that the final [memo of understanding] hasn’t been written, but I am concerned if we don’t do it, we’re going to be paying a greater share.” Oak Bluffs was the last of the six Island towns to sign the agreement.

Town Administrator Robert Whritenour ended the meeting with good financial news. Due to a change in state funding for education, and to an increase in the town’s Charter School reimbursement, Oak Bluffs will receive more than $300,000 in education funding in FY16. This means the town will go from $155,000 in negative aid to a positive $150,000.