Chilmark raises building permit fees

The select board unanimously accepted the proposal of building inspector Adam Petkus.

Chilmark town hall. —MV Times

The Chilmark Select Board approved a recommendation from the building department to charge more for permit fees.

Town building inspector Adam Petkus proposed the higher fee during a public hearing on Tuesday. Without the increase, Petkus said, taxpayers would be subsidizing the department more each year.

Petkus proposed charging $6.50 per $1,000 of total building costs, including all new construction, additions, renovations, and insulation or weatherization projects.

Previously, the department charged 75¢ per square foot of new construction. 

The new fee structure does allow for waivers for families who may have difficulty paying, which would be approved by the town’s select board. If approved, a waiver would allow no fee to be paid, or up to $1,000 paid.

According to Petkus, his department collected about $50,000 in fees last year. Had they been using the new fee structure, they would have collected about $280,000. Last year, the department incurred about $80,000 of inspection costs, and had a budget of about $130,000.

Board chair Bill Rossi said that new fees were important to better reflect the operating costs of Petkus’ building inspection and zoning enforcement department. 

A recent cost pressure, said Rossi, was hiring Petkus full-time. “For years and years and years, we essentially had a part-time inspector, and it just wasn’t working at that level any longer with the amount of work that was going on in Chilmark,” Rossi said.

At the meeting, Petkus spoke of the scope of building in Chilmark. “The declared amount of building cost [for] fiscal year 2022 is over $52 million in building in the town … the scale of these projects are getting more intricate and larger. [There are] more and more of them. Whether or not the town supports it, there is a lot of development going on, and the level of building is getting quite complex.”

Town officials had several questions regarding demolition fees. The new fees charge $500 for a demolition project, whether of a single-family residence, a shed, garage, or barn. Previous fees charged $100 to demolish a single-family residence, $50 for a garage, barn, or large accessory structure, and $25 for a shed, deck, or small accessory structure.

Board member Marie Larsen asked whether the $500 fee could be lowered for certain smaller structures. “If I’m taking down a little, six-by-10-foot shed, I have to pay a $500 fee?” Larsen asked.

According to Petkus, his $500 demolition fee is an attempt to represent the average cost of demolition. Petkus said that demolishing some small sheds can be time- and resource-consuming, depending on factors like age and historic status.

Petkus added that town bylaws classify any project over four feet as a structure, and that his department must approve anything meeting that classification. This entails creating a file and paper trail. Structure demolition also requires a demolition application in partnership with the town board of health, to check for things like asbestos and lead. Petkus also said that structures of at least 200 square feet are issued building permits, which requires paperwork as well.

“The point of the fee structure is to associate it with my department’s time that is spent on it, and the time that the town spends dealing with that … the fee is directly associated with the service,” said Petkus.

Town administrator Tim Carroll also expressed concern over possibly discouraging smaller demolitions. “So it [can] cost $100 more to tear something down than it does to build it,” he remarked. “My only concern is that in the past we’ve told people they should tear down their deck, or they should get rid of their unsightly shed or whatever, and I don’t want to have an impediment to people doing that.”

Doug Best, of D. Best Construction in Vineyard Haven and the Martha’s Vineyard Building Association, supported Petkus’s proposal. “It’s troublesome for builders, it’s troublesome for homeowners to try to complete a building process that ensures that the liability is minimal.”

Best also stressed the importance of staffing for timely, competent building departments. “Turnover is rampant when people aren’t paid in municipal positions commensurate with the private sector,” Best added.

Best also said that higher fees might be to the chagrin of some of his customers. “But again, when they’re building an $8 million house in Farm Neck, which we’re doing, and they pay a $35,000 permit fee, they’re happy to have it,” said Best.

Former Chilmark building inspector Billy Dillon also supported Petkus, as well as department modernization efforts. “Adam’s job is one of the three biggest public safety jobs in this town … he also needs to get the online permitting to come into the 21st century, so people don’t have to sit outside on Saturday morning on a bench like they did for 30 years.”

Aquinnah’s Select Board recently passed new building fees proposed by Petkus, who is also the building inspector there.