Editorial: County cut in permit fees helps homeowners

Homeowners will benefit handsomely under Manatee County's new permitting fee structure. Starting this week, fees fall 6 percent overall. The drop is far more dramatic in particular situations. Instead of a $125 fee for the replacement of windows, doors or hurricane shutters, the cost plunges to $75. That amounts to a 60 percent savings.

Another example ofhomeowner-friendly fees targets anyone who pulled a permit but for various reasons allowed it to expire. The reinstatement fee plunged from $200 to $50 -- a whopping 75 percent.

County commissioners approved the new fee schedule in a unanimous vote last week. But credit goes to improvements in both government efficiency and construction activity. Signs of a rebounding economy are most welcome as are upgrades in the internal operations at the Building and Development Services Department.

More often than not, government serves as a punching bag for citizens irked by taxes and fees as well as poor service.

But Manatee County has put a premium on customer relations for several years now, especially with the construction industry. Builders have expressed appreciation for the cooperative spirit that saves them time and money and spares them frustration and headaches.

Now, as building activity picks up, fees come down -- not unexpected since permit fees must be spent on building review-related costs and cannot be shifted into the general fund or other budget area. That budgeting constraint prevents government from spending the excess elsewhere and protects residents from unjustifiable costs.

Even with the increase in the workload in permitting and inspection services, the building department staff has not grown. This, too, serves the public well.

In announcing the new fee schedule, county Administrator Ed Hunzeker put an optimistic tone on the economy: "Construction activity in our county is recovering. ... Residential building permit activity in Manatee County is as strong as in any county in the state."

His point is borne out by a variety of real estate market reports. Home prices are rising. The housing inventory has fallen as buyer demand increases -- in some cases, sparking bidding wars. Manatee real estate agents are on pace for their best year in home sales since the market collapsed in 2007. Home builders are busy again as a result of the strengthening market.

All this is now trickling down to Manatee Countyhomeowners who want to improve their properties.

While this is good news on a small scale, the harsh reality is Manatee homeowners carrying Citizens Property Insurance policies will be hit with anywhere from 9 to 22 percent rate increases next year -- more than offsetting lower permitting fees. We'll explore the Citizens issue this Sunday.