Common Council approves increases in fees for city permits as projects abound - The Buffalo News
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Common Council approves increases in fees for city permits as projects abound

When HarborCenter planners formed their budget, they planned on paying about a half-million dollars in building permit fees to Buffalo.

The bill came closer to $37,500.

That amount doesn’t cover the costs of two inspectors who show up on site every day, looking over the construction work of the $172.2 million complex.

Other city workers, too, perform duties related to the project – a 20-story facility next to the First Niagara Center which will include two National Hockey League-size rinks, a 205-room Marriott hotel, a restaurant, and an 850-space parking ramp.

“We’ve got all these projects going on in the city, and we’re losing thousands, if not millions, in revenue,” James W. Comerford Jr., commissioner of Permits and Inspections Services, said at a Common Council meeting Tuesday. “We’re not even close to paying for our services.”

So the Council approved permit fee increases, pushing the average permit cost to just shy of one-quarter of one percent of a project’s total cost.

So how much would the city have collected from HarborCenter for permits under the new fee schedule?

About $365,000, Comerford said.

Even with the permit fee increases, Buffalo’s fees remain lower than those in surrounding suburbs and in other cities of similar size, Comerford said.

The city overhauled the permit system, making it difficult to compare the new fees with those they replaced.

Comerford showed the Council a chart detailing what the fees would be for a dozen projects. The fees for a $1 million urgent-care center in North Buffalo, for example, would rise to $3,620, from $920.

For 12 projects worth a combined $303 million – none of which is affected by the new fees – the city collected $148,897, according to Brown administration figures. Under the new schedule, the project fees would have been $706,475.

Among 14 municipalities – including Amherst, Cheektowaga and Rochester – Buffalo posted by far the lowest fees.

The Council met in a special session to approve the new schedule of building permit fees, as well as increases in unrelated fees for towing.

The new system will reduce the department’s paperwork, from 26 pages for a project to two pages, Comerford said.

The Council slashed the fees in 2003 amid charges that the city was not business-friendly, said Lovejoy Council Member Richard A. Fontana.

The Council approved increased the fee for towing to the city’s impound lot to $110, from $90. The fee covers all two-axle vehicles, motorcycles, boats, small trailers or motor homes less than 25 feet in length. The fee for storage at the impound lot increased from $30 per day, from $25.

An increase in fees related to streets and sidewalks was also approved, covering various items. The list includes an increase from 50 cents to a dollar for bags to go over parking meter heads for special events, an increase in block club party permits to $24, from $12, and an increase for permits for garage sales, if more than three are held in one year, to $21, from $10.50. Annual permits for sidewalk or roofing contractors are set to double – to $210, from $105.

The Council did not approve an increase in park fees, including those at golf courses, hourly rates for exclusive use of a city pool and fees to rent LaSalle Pavilion. Lawmakers are expected to take up those fee increases in September.


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