May 17, 2012WAKEFIELD — On May 9 a public hearing originally called to set a new fee for a setback permit turned into a discussion of permit fees in general and ended up with a 2-1 vote to reduce an existing permit fee to zero.
In March Wakefield voters approved eliminating the need for a building permit for a structure of 200 square feet or less, provided it is not heated or attached to a heated space. Building Inspector Arthur Capello informed selectmen that even though no permit was required for the structure, it was still necessary to record it in the database entry for the property. To defray the cost of this data entry, Capello proposed a setback permit with a fee of $25.
Rather than hold a public hearing only on the new permit, selectmen made the May 9 hearing on the overall permit and fee structure.
Capello presented a listing of 29 existing permits and their fees in addition to the new setback permit.
Selectman Chair Ken Paul confirmed that Capello does not go out of his way to check the setback.
Selectman Peter Kasprzyk asked that since Capello is not a surveyor, "How can you check setbacks?"
Selectman Charlie Edwards asked, "Why not call it an office fee rather than a setback fee?"
Kasprzyk gave his view that the setback permit fee should be "minimal." He suggested $15 or $20, while acknowledging that revenue from fees pays for Capello's services.
Capello responded that $25 was chosen for consistency with other permit fees and pointed out that the fee does not cover all costs.
Paul said that other departments don't charge user fees, noting that the police department does not charge when it does a vehicle identification number check. He added that he would prefer to get rid of all fees.
Kasprzyk disagreed. "If you don't charge fees then you are raising taxes." He gave his view that the person building a shed should pay the cost of recording and inspecting it, not the taxpayers.
Capello interjected that a deck under 200 square feet would also qualify for the setback fee, assuming it is not connected to a heated space.
Edwards asked, "Why should someone have to get any permit to put up a small outbuilding?" He said he did not object to a small fee for recording the structure but he did not want to call it a permit: "I don't like the word," he said. He added that he has been trying to get permits lowered for two years, including submitting a petition to do so that the town attorney did not allow. "I talked with the Local Government Center and they say we can get rid of any fee we want. I don't want Arthur Capello to justify his costs."
Capello responded that even if you get rid of fees you will still need permits: "Inspections help owners," he said, adding that he did not put a fee in there because he was looking for work.
Paul agreed it was important for homes to be built and repaired to minimum standards. "We don't want substandard housing." He estimated that getting rid of permit fees would add $10 to the average tax bill. What he had in mind, Paul said, was a notification process – drop off a notice of proposed work and if there is no objection within 10 days, it would be OK to proceed.
Capello pointed out that someone would still have to enter it into the property database.
Kasprzyk proposed a setback fee of $20. Paul countered that he felt $5 would be adequate for not only the setback but also for roofing, siding and windows. There was no second for either proposal. Edwards proposed $5 just for the setback fee. Paul seconded and the board agreed the setback fee is now $5.
Edwards picked up the issue of the $25 fee for roofing, siding and windows, saying that he did not want fees for that kind of work. "It's ridiculous," he said, having homeowners have to ask to do anything on their house. "Repairing a roof or replacing windows increase property values."
Capello estimated there were 125 such permits a year, and at $25 per permit that produced revenue of $3,125. Kasprzyk said, "If you cut that, it's equivalent to Arthur's fuel budget."
Paul responded that the issue is about the fee, not Capello's interpretation of the building code.
Capello said he is looking at safety issues in doing such work.
Edwards stated that if homeowners don't take responsibility for keeping up their properties, the town takes the burden.
Kasprzyk responded that taking away the fees is taking responsibility away from homeowners. He said that the code protects public safety workers as well as homeowners. "I respect that Ken and Charlie are code officers," he said.
Paul said there were plenty of towns in New Hampshire that do not have inspections. Conway, for example, has commercial permits but not residential.
Edwards moved to eliminate all fees for roofing, siding and windows. "The consensus is the public hates permits for that kind of work."
His motion died for lack of a second. Kasprzyk urged the board take time to consider the matter carefully.
Paul moved to change the fee for roofing, siding and windows to zero. Edwards seconded the motion and it passed on a 2-1 vote, with Kasprzyk voting against.
Chamber of Commerce board member Tom Dube asked selectmen if the town would contribute $200 toward the cost of replacing the "Welcome to Wakefield" sign on Meadow Street near Route 16, next to the laundromat. Town Administrator Teresa Williams said there was $3,000 left in the Unexpected Costs budget, but Paul said he was not comfortable drawing that fund down so early in the year. He asked Dube to come to the next meeting; in the meantime they will see what other funds are available.
Selectmen appointed three members and two alternates to the new Agricultural Commission approved by voters in March: Members Robert Bevard for three years, Michael Hickey for two years, and William Denley for one year; and Alternates Geoffrey Denley for three years and Richard Ellis for two years. Bevard, who was appointed chairman, said there would be a pig scramble on Wakefield Pride Day.
The board approved a "Controlled Substance and Alcohol Policy" for the town that authorizes testing of town employees who are required to have a commercial drivers license and operate or could be called on to operate a commercial motor vehicle. Testing would be pre-employment, post-accident and random. Testing is done by an outside service.
The N.H. Department of Transportation informed the town it will be removing streetlights as part of a cost-cutting measure and will produce a list of lights in Wakefield that will be removed once final decisions have been made.
In response to a question from Jerry O'Connor, Williams reported that MRI has surveyed four departments so far and noted that the survey is still available to resident son the town Web site.
Kasprzyk reported that the Heritage Commission Mill Tour had 48 participants. The commission is planning to build a model train setup in the Union Freight House and to install a heating and air conditioning system there. The season for the depot and freight house will open on June 30 at 10 a.m.
Commission Chair Pam Judge reported that the N.H. Preservation Alliance gave the commission an award for planning (see separate story). She also said that letters of supports for the Canal Bridge project have been received from Wakefield, Acton Maine and the Department of Environmental Services.
Edwards announced that this year's theme for Wakefield Pride Day is "Appreciation of Our Nation." Pride Day will be held on Saturday, May 19. The parade will start at noon.
Dube reported that the sprinklers are in on the first floor of the Greater Wakefield Resource Center and that they are six weeks away from having the elevator installed. He asked for donations of material to build out the offices: Home Depot and Lowes have offered volunteers to do the work but no donations of materials.
Selectmen signed the lease for the Wakefield Food Pantry site.
Kasprzyk reported that the wall near the paper dumpster is failing and the waste oil building needs repairs to address environmental issues. Williams said that the wall was addressed at the Capital Improvement Plan meeting and replacement could be done from capital reserves. Reserves might also cover the waste oil building.
Bids on clearing trees from the Food Pantry site are due by May 18.
The board approved Robert Saunders of CE2 to supervise the ash removal from the transfer station, working with Waste Management, for 30 hours at $80 per hour.
Angie Casperonis was appointed Assistant Town Clerk.
Family Septic Service was approved as a septic hauler who can use the town's disposal site.
The next meeting of the Wakefield Board of Selectmen will be on Wednesday, May 23 at 7 p.m. at the Town Hall meeting room.