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Clarence officials are considering an amendment to the town's building code that would quadruple the basic building permit fees for new residential homes in the town.

Under the proposal, building permits for new homes would increase from 5 cents per square foot to 20 cents per square foot, town officials said last week.

The change would bring Clarence into line with some other area towns, which charge much higher per-square-foot rates for new residential builds, said Town Engineer Joseph Latona. Latona cited West Seneca's residential rate of 25 cents per square foot, Lancaster's rate of 40 cents, Amherst's rate of 27 1/2 cents, and Grand Island's rate of 19 cents. "Certainly the builders are not going to embrace this, although they're paying it in every other town," Latona said. The 20-cent rate will likely be a starting point for further rate hikes in the Building Department fee schedule, he said.

The proposed change is due to the fact that in the past 12 years -- a time during which Clarence has changed from a sleepy rural community to a hot spot targeted by area developers -- the town never changed the permit fees charged to residential builders, Latona said.

For example, on a 3,000-square-foot new home, the Building Department under the current fee schedule would charge a building permit fee of $150. If the proposed amendment is approved by the Town Board, the fee would be $600.

That increase would help the town pay for the salaries and in-house expenses of the town Building Department, which have continued to grow although the fees charged to builders have not, Latona said. In 1997, the town collected $78,000 in total building fees, while salaries alone in the Building Department amounted to $160,000, he said.

"We don't want to make money, as a municipality, but we don't want to lose money," Latona said. The proposed amendment received outspoken support from several Town Board members this week. "I certainly think we should charge more than 20 cents a square foot," said Councilman John Love.

Councilman Ian R. McPherson also agreed with the proposed change. "It's the kind of thing anyone in business would do, when you compare what you're doing with what you're taking in," he said.

McPherson said that keeping the building permit fees the same for more than a decade -- at the same time other in-house costs were increasing -- ends up costing the existing taxpayers in the town money. "It's doesn't seem fair to ask the taxpayers who are already here to underwrite the town's cost in new builds," he said. "I think this will go far to right the ship."

The Town Board will consider adopting the amended Building Department fee schedule at an upcoming board meeting.

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