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Monrovia Resident Says City Overcharging for Building Permits

Monrovian Chris Ziegler is charging that the City of Monrovia is out of compliance with state law by overcharging for building permits.

Ziegler, who said he will be running for mayor in the next election, said that California's Fee Mitigation Act limits the amount that can be charged for city fees to the cost of providing the service, and that the fees are not supposed to generate revenue for the city, only offset costs. However, he said, when he installed a solar system at his house in 2012 he was charged $768, a $688 building permit and $80 for the plan check, which he said is far more than the service cost.

He said he calculated the total inspection time was seven minutes and thirty seconds. He estimated that by driving from the City Hall parking lot to his house and adding the amount of time at the site that the inspector spent at his house, then took the hourly wage of the city worker, which he said was $45, and doubled it to take into account benefits, then added a dollar per mile for mileage costs.

"When you get above $200 it is a stretch to justify it," he said.

He said the city has told him that his bill included other costs associated with the project, but he said any additional costs are supposed to be explicitly enacted by ordinance, so that, for instance, if an inspector has a long drive time to inspect a site, that should be explicitly covered by a city ordinance.

He added that the city told him in March 2013 that it would look into the matter, but he has not had any updates.

I wrote to Interim City Manager Fran Delach and asked him for a response, which he provided, here:

Two bills signed in 2012 place limits on the fees that cities can charge for a solar permit. AB 1801 specifies that a local government cannot base the fee for a solar permit on the value of the solar system or the value of the property on which the system will be installed. It also requires the local government to separately identify every fee charged on the invoice provided to the applicant.

SB 1222 restricts a city, county, city and county, or charter city from charging more for a solar permit than the estimated reasonable cost of providing the service for which the fee is charged. The law further provides specific limits on the dollar amount local governments may charge for a permit:

- Residential solar energy systems: $500, plus $15 for every kilowatt (kW) over 15 kW

- Commercial solar energy systems: $1,000 for systems up to 50 kW, plus $7 for every kW between 51 kW and 250 kW, plus $5 for every kW over 250 kW

The restrictions of SB 1222 only apply to roof-mounted PV systems, not ground-mounted systems or solar thermal systems. The law also gives local governments the ability to exceed these cost limits by resolution or ordinance if they provide substantial evidence of the reasonable cost to issue the permit, and meet other criteria.  In response, the City has taken several actions.  We continue to use the valuation method but cap it at 500.00.  There are however add-on fees some of them state mandated such as building standards as well as City fees for Historic Preservation, archiving etc.  As part of this year’s budget process we have prepared an analysis of our costs associated with the issuance and inspection of a solar system and will be presenting during the budget process (the new fee will be around $325 dollars)  we will be seeking direction on how to address the add-on fees, which really is a Council Policy should they decide to subsidize this type of permit.

The Monrovia City Council has had a consistent policy of attempting to recover direct costs with permits and fees so the taxpayer would not be subsidizing private building or development efforts; yet also keeping in-line with the “Business Friendly” culture they demand.

UPDATE: Chris Ziegler wants me to clarify that the building inspector made two visits to his home.

- Brad Haugaard

1 comment:

  1. So is the new $325 fee an admission that Ziegler was vastly over-charged? And where are the direct costs incurred by the City?