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TOWN HIKING SOME BUILDING FEES TO OFFSET COSTS

It's getting more expensive to build in the booming suburb of Clarence.

The town is hiking some types of fees charged to prospective builders in an effort to offset costs and bring the town's building fee schedule into line with those in surrounding towns.

"The motive was to cover our costs," said Town Engineer Joseph Latona, who first proposed increasing the building fees -- which hadn't been changed in 12 years -- to the Town Board in August. The new fee schedule goes into effect Feb. 1.

The change "was from a business perspective, not a level-the-playing-field perspective," Latona said. "We looked to see what it was costing us (in departmental costs) and what we were actually receiving, and it was very enlightening."

The most significant of the fee hikes, recently approved by a 4-0 vote of the Town Board, will quadruple the cost of building permits for new residential and commercial construction in the town from 5 cents per square foot of new construction to 20 cents per square foot.

That's a change that -- coming on top of a new "open space fee" for developers also recently approved by the Town Board -- is raising the ire of some area builders.

"Fees are never designed to be profit centers for the community," said Joseph McIvor Jr., executive vice president of the Niagara Frontier Builders Association.

"From the standpoint of Western New York, any way you look at it, whenever a municipality puts another charge on us it's another tax," McIvor said. "It affects everybody."

But other towns around the county charge much more than the nickel-a-square-foot permit fee Clarence has been levying for more than a decade, Latona said.

For example, for new residential building permits, West Seneca charges 25 cents per square foot, Lancaster charges 40 cents, and Grand Island charges 19 cents, Latona said.

"We found we weren't recouping even half of what our costs were," Latona said of the Building Department's staffing and operations costs. The fee increases will make the department more self-supporting, he said.

The increase in building fees comes just a few weeks after the Town Board unanimously adopted a new "open space fee" of $250 per lot to be charged to prospective developers in the town. The open space fee is to be charged in addition to the town's current "recreation fee" of $450 per lot charged to developers.

The difference between the two fees, town officials said, is that the town can use the recreation fees to purchase equipment and to build and maintain recreational sites in the town, while the new open space fee will go into a separate fund to be only used for the purchase of property that will be preserved as "forever wild" areas in the town.

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