ELYRIA — A state official working with Elyria Schools said the city of Elyria charges higher-than-normal building permit and design review fees than other parts of the state.
A decision to cut the district’s fees will fall to Elyria City Council. Recent discussions about such a move imploded and Council put off voting for a few more weeks.
Mayor Holly Brinda said she is trying to strike a balance between helping the district and maintaining the Building Department’s revenue. Dating back to at least 2014, the city’s general fund has subsidized the department with hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“This shouldn’t be a contentious issue between the administration and Council,” Brinda said Monday. “First of all, I think everyone wants to help the schools. Certainly, I do. I worked for the district for 15 years, I was on the Board of Education for 12 years with a presidency and I was part of the rebuilding of Elyria High School… The purpose of this was to try to get everyone on the same page as to how decisions are being made and why and the biggest issue to me — as far as I am concerned we can waive all the fees if we can figure out how to cover our costs.”
Finance Director Ted Pileski has estimated this year’s revenue for the Building Department at $562,000, which includes about $350,000 in building permit fees, according to figures from the city.
Brinda said Council can vote to waive fees for the district. That decision, however, likely would mean additional money from the general fund would have to be earmarked to the department.
William Prenosil, senior project manager with the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission, in a letter dated March 29 to Brinda said the projected fees Elyria would have to pay are “considerably higher than (the OFCC) sees around NE Ohio and the rest of the state and quite frankly are not in the ‘normal range.’ ”
“The fees that they are proposing — and this is before any discounts — are in the neighborhood of close to four times what we normally see, certainly three times if you just look at neighboring districts in the county,” Prenosil said when reached Thursday.
The city’s building fees have been the same for roughly 15 years, according to Mary Siwierka, safety service director.
There is pending legislation referred by Brinda to offer the district a 50 percent reduction on plan review fees and charging the district only straight costs should the district need to resubmit any plans.
This reduction would be in addition to a 20 percent cut on building permit fees Council passed in November.
The district’s project consultant, Paul Rigda, said in light of a very tight budget that is threatening the project, the district is hopeful Council will enact a 50 percent across-the-board cut.
Elyria is waiting for the OFCC to sign off on a revised building plan before finalizing the project, and the savings would allow more of the bond issue to go into the schools, he said.
“We just know the more we can keep, the more we can build,” he said.
Based on construction costs of $126 million, which is what Rigda said Elyria will roughly spend on five new schools totaling 490,000 square feet, the building fees are about $802,000 before any discounts.
Safety Service Director Mary Siwierka said the givebacks to the district go beyond just reductions in building fees.
The city has committed to covering the costs of traffic signals at Hilliard and North Abbe roads at a cost of $250,000. The city also is covering the costs of sidewalks on Rosealee Avenue for another $15,000. On the stadium complex, the city is covering the cost of a waterline loop around the project that should cut another $50,000 for the schools.
Elyria’s basic building fees are a combination of construction costs and project size. However, Rigda said using valuation is a very expensive way to determine fees, especially when a project’s price tag is several million dollars.
“We are very expensive to build, and this is very expensive to pay,” he said Wednesday.
With the construction of Elyria Schools’ new athletic complex, the district already has spent more than $97,000 on fees, he said.
Councilman Mark Jessie, D-3rd Ward and a former Elyria Schools teacher, called the city’s fees high and wants to see Council approve a 50 percent across-the-board cut for the district’s project.
“I don’t think we are being fair to our school district,” he said. “We want to charge them more money than it actually costs us to do the work.”
Prenosil said his letter was an attempt to get the city to reconsider all of the district’s proposed fees because so much has changed with the project in recent months.
“We should be closer to $200,000 to $300,000 worth of permits. We are at $900,000 roughly,” he said. “Even at half, it is probably still higher than others, but at least it is still in a respectable range. It is just so far off it is just — there’s no way you can make an argument that it should be justified.”
Using a fee schedule from North Ridgeville, which uses size to determine its fees, if Elyria built its schools there, the total fees would be just over $177,000.
Jene Gaver, chief building official in Springfield and president of the Ohio Building Officials Association, said Thursday that every municipality has the authority to set its own fee schedule as long as it includes a 3 percent charge that goes back to the state.
“There really isn’t an industry norm or average to look to because the state gives every jurisdiction the authority to set their own fees,” he said. “Everyone does it different and everyone looks at each other’s fee schedule to take the parts and pieces that works for them. What’s high in one city may be low in another.”
The constructions of Elyria High School and Lorain High School offer a comparison in fees paid by like school districts to like cities.
According to figures from Lorain, Lorain’s total permit fees for all permits were $92,965. Engineering and plan review fees added another $135,000 to the project for a total of about $227,965 for the more than 338,000-square-foot building.
Lorain did not offer any fee reductions to the district, said Mayor Chase Ritenauer.
The building fees associated with Elyria High School, which opened several years before Lorain High and is about 330,000 square feet in size, totaled almost $423,000. This includes plan review fees, HVAC permits, electrical permits and plumbing permits, according to figures from Elyria.
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