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City enacts new building fee standards

Posted 8/11/15 (Tue)

By Amy Robinson
Farmer Staff Writer

In an effort to help regulate the building permit fees collected in Watford City, the city council recently approved the adoption and use of the Building Valuation Data Sheet (BVD) from the International Building Codes, as well as a Plan Review Fee.
The BVD Sheet details average construction costs from around the country, using a cost per square foot method. These costs vary depending on the different types of construction and occupancy (use) of the proposed building.
“The biggest reason why we are going to this format is because we are seeing a lot of discrepencies on the permit applications regarding the cost to build,” said Steven Williams, Watford City Building inspector. “Many applications are undervalued. This way every project that comes in is going to be charged in the same way using the cost per square foot method.”
According to Williams, the building permit application will be amended to include total square footage of the building.
“We’re just trying to get all the needed information to get the most accurate cost,” said Brent Steed, consultant for Watford City Building and Safety. “This value system has been used in many different jurisdictions all across the United States. It’s been around since I started working in this field back in 1997.”
In addition to the change of the building permit fee calculations, the city council also adopted a Plan Review Fee. The Plan Review Fee will be collected as an additional fee prior to permitting. The Plan Review Fee will be calculated as 25 percent of the total building permit fee. All commercial, industrial, and multi-family developments in excess of three or more units will be subject to these Plan Review Fees.
“We still want to encourage families to build,” says Steed. “The fee won’t apply to anything under a standard duplex. So anything more than a duplex will have that new fee attached to it.”
 Williams cites the new law enforcement center, the hospital, and the Events Center as examples of projects that require considerable time in the plan review process.
“We need more eyes looking at these projects,” states Williams. “This tool will help us better perform the review process. Most big cities have their own plan review departments.”
The majority of these larger projects, according to Williams, have extensive sets of plans and documents submitted to the city for review. The city feels that the additional fee will help offset the costs of labor and time that it takes for city staff and professionals to review the construction plans and documents.
“The fee will be 25 percent of the total building permit fee,” said Williams. “We discussed upwards of 50 percent, but felt that was a little too much. We’re still Watford City and we wanted to make it affordable to build here. But, the city needed a way to be fair across the board and to somehow be compensated for the extra time spent reviewing plans.”
According to Steed and Williams,  most cities are charging a 50 percent fee, including Williston and Fargo. So Watford City has made it a point to try and make it more affordable for builders here. And the standard fee from IBC for plan reviews is 65 percent. So, according to Steed, Watford City is only charging the cost to do the job - not looking to make a profit.
“The plan review along with the BVD standards is being implemented to try and keep a level playing field for contractors to build and to help eliminate in-house confusion when it comes to the different construction types and costs,” says Williams.
It is expensive to build here, says Williams, but the city has to maintain a minimum standard.
“With as much building as is going on, and the time set aside to review plans or monitor building costs, we felt it was a necessary improvement,” said Williams. “People need to get the product they deserve.  I’m a small town guy and I don’t like to complicate things. But the cost of local government has gone up and we have to justify it.”