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Building Inspector to suggest building fee changes

REPORTER FILE PHOTO Town Hall.

REPORTER FILE PHOTO Town Hall.

Islanders could be seeing increases to fees charged when applying for building permits for renovations and new construction.

But Building Inspector Reed Karen believes his suggestions will result in fairer fees than currently exist.
It’s not about to gouging property owners, Mr. Karen told the Town Board at its October 31 work session. “I’d simply like to make it fairer,” he said.

Fees haven’t kept pace with the changing economy, he added, and Shelter Island is at the lowest end of most neighboring municipalities when it comes to building fees.

Mr. Karen won’t be recommending an across the board percentage increase. Instead, he wants to review fees line by line and submit recommendations to the Town Board based on the amount of work he and other department workers have to put into a project.

Basing increases on construction costs is one way to get closer to what would be fair pricing for permits, Mr. Karen told the board.

Many other communities base fees on square footage of a project, he said but that doesn’t necessarily speak to the work involved in monitoring and ultimately approving a project.

A relatively modest house in the Center, for example, could have a similar square footage to a multimillion dollar house.

But what jacks up the price of the high end house, he explained, is often complex paperwork and inspectionsthat could include heating and air conditioning systems, irrigation, lighting and other equipment owners with deep pockets often elect to include. Those need much more technical knowledge and take more time to ensure they’re properly installed and working correctly.

The building inspector doesn’t want to see the owner of a simple structure hit with a heavy fee increase when the burden really belongs to the homeowner of the multimillion house who can well afford building fees appropriate to the project.

That’s why, when Councilwoman Chris Lewis suggested looking at pricing in Southold Town rather than the Hamptons, since construction on the North Fork is likely to be nearer to many houses on Shelter Island, Mr. Karen rejected that idea. Southold does no weighting of the complexity of the structure, he said.

At the same time, he said Riverhead fees are structured based more on complexity.

Councilman Jim Colligan agreed with Mr. Karen that the best approach would be to review the Island’s fee structure line by line and make recommendations.

The building inspector promised to begin a review and submit a report to the Town Board recommending a new fee structure.

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