by Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
For the second time in a month, the County Board approved a request to waive an after-the-fact permit fee, Tuesday.
Don Lenz of Benson inquired at the County Planning and Zoning (P&Z) office in the fall of 2012, about the requirements to put up a cabin on property owned by his daughter, Traci Pahl, also of Benson.
Lenz said he was told that a dwelling could not be constructed without provision for septic service. He told staff that he had already put up a privy (without a permit.)
“When the privy was inspected, it was found to be noncompliant,” said P&Z Administrator Amy Kowalzek. “We’re on the back end of this. He did a self-install, but he’s not qualified because he’s not the property owner. We’ve not had any interface with Ms. Pahl; she’s passed on all correspondence to Mr. Lenz.”
When it was Lenz’ turn to speak to the Board, he revealed that Pahl is his daughter, something that had not come to light in conversations with P&Z.
It is specified in the county’s annually approved fee schedule that a permit issued after the fact is subject to a “three times the fee” penalty. In this case, a $429 penalty would be added to the $143 permit fee for the cabin. A $225 penalty would be added to the $75 fee for the privy.
“After-the-fact permit fees are designed to help garner compliance. The intent of the extra fee is to cover the costs incurred by staff working to ensure rules are followed and to avoid the use of general tax dollars to subsidize the efforts,” said County Administrator Deb Gruber.
Lenz admitted that he had made a mistake in neglecting to pick up a permit. When he later went to get the permit, he found out that he couldn’t get a building permit until he had a privy permit.
Gruber provided comparison information from 15 other counties in Minnesota regarding the fees they charge after the fact.
Of the counties that responded to her request for information, six charge two times the permit fee. Four counties charge three times the fee, with one county charging four times and one county charging five. Other counties charge a flat fee or percentage of the construction.
The initial request to waive after-the-fact fees for both the building and the privy was denied by a vote of 2-3, with Commissioners Jeff Jelinski, Randy Winscher and Kevin Maurer voting against.
“We discussed this in our planning session,” said Maurer. “This is setting an example that it’s acceptable to build wherever or whenever without a permit. You (Lenz) were very aware a permit is required.”
A new motion was introduced to waive only the after-the-fact privy fee, which passed by a 3-2 vote, with Jelinski and Maurer voting against.
“I have a problem with all these fees charged by the state,” said Commissioner Don Meyer. “It’s getting so crazy.”
In February, the Board voted to waive a $150 after-the-fact penalty after a large sign was installed without a permit. It was discovered when county staff went to inspect the same property prior to the installation of another sign.
“The role of the County Board is to make policy-level decisions, such as approve ordinance language and set fee schedules. It is then the job of staff to administer those policies,” said Gruber. “Given the frequency of requests to deviate from the approved fee schedule regarding after-the-fact permit fees, it is appropriate to have a discussion with the Board about how they want to move forward.”