Auburn considers 17 percent permit fee increase to match Lewiston

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AUBURN — Revenues from building permits and fees would increase 17 percent in the next fiscal year if councilors agree, making them match Lewiston’s fee schedule and shifting department costs onto developers.

It’s part of an effort to use a shared software suite to manage city development, inspection and permits.

“Right now in both cities, the property tax payers subsidize my salary and the salary of everyone in my department,” said Lewiston Planning and Code Enforcement Director Gil Arsenault. “We’re trying to change that, to move to a situation where the users of the system, the developers, pay most of those costs.”

Arsenault, Auburn’s Assistant City Manager Laurie Smith, Auburn Planning Director David Galbraith and other staff from the City of Lewiston presented a new fee schedule to Auburn councilors Monday night. They’ll make the same presentation to Lewiston’s City Council at a 6 p.m. workshop Tuesday.

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Smith said the councils in both cities are scheduled to vote on the new fee schedule in the next several weeks. The new shared computer system will come online in July.

The two cities began working to adopt a shared software system in October.  They agreed to purchase Georgia-based EnerGov Solutions’ suite of six software modules designed especially for community government.

The suite includes modules that keep track of development projects working through the city review process, monitor building permits, track building inspections and automatically calculate fees and keep track of special licenses, including liquor licenses and special amusement permits.

Another module lets citizens and contractors take care of many city government functions over the Internet. That includes applying for permits, checking status of development projects and scheduling inspections.

 The suite costs about $354,000 for both cities, a savings for $122,000 for each city, Smith said.

But Smith said the cities need to have matching fee structures and permits to make sharing the system feasible. In some cases, one city will have to increase their fees they charge to match their neighbor.

The new fee schedule for both cities will be simplified, substituting flat fees or simple calculations based on square footage for more complex fee schedules.

Lewiston’s Arsenault said the new system will make it easier for Twin Cities developers to manage their project and will mean less interference from the city.

“When we’re done, a developer will be able to take care of their paperwork from home, without having to come in to City Hall,” Arsenault said. “Right now, we need a guide to get through the fee schedules. They’re not clear, and they are not simple.”

Overall, Smith said she expects the city’s annual revenue from subdivision planning would increase from $11,000 before the increase  to $19,000 after. Building permit revenues would increase from $70,000 to $76,000. Plumbing fees would increase from $8,000 to $10,500.

The city’s project revenues would increase $24,000 annually after the changes are adopted.

But raising fees concerned Auburn Councilor Dan Herrick.

“I thought all this technology was supposed to save us money, but I’m hearing nothing but increase, increase, increase,” Herrick said.

Smith said councilors don’t have to increase the fees, as long as they match.

“You can charge nothing for fees and permits,” she said. “That’s up to the council. But what we’re trying to do is align the fees between the cities.”

staylor@sunjournal.com

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