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Stay Tuned for the Next Exciting Episode of Sewer TV””

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Sewer TV

by Jeremy Holder

In Part 1 of this series entitled Climate Change needed for Frederick County’s Building Industry I covered a list of fees that seem to be changing as much as our local weather has gone from the extreme snowfall of February to the recent 100 degree heat wave.  Frederick County Government has increased many of these fees on the cost of construction during that same period.  I did not question the need for the fees in that piece, but I did question why the County is finding it necessary at this time to impose such a significant burden on an already troubled industry.

While all these review, permit and impact fees increase, we cannot forget (that unlike the County, who as you recall for Part 1, has waited over 10 years to professionally update their impact fee analysis) the industry is required to have its plans re-reviewed by the County staff every two years, due to concerns that prior approvals may be outdated because the regulations have been changed… and “Upon Further Review” as they say … the likelihood of falling out of compliance increases … so more fees are assessed.  It’s a vicious cycle.

One of my new favorites is the County water and sewer construction inspection fees. Increases swelled several weeks ago to include a county government overhead factor of 80%.  When combined with the required private on-site geotechnical inspection fees required by the County (costing $300-$400 per day) the total inspection costs could approach $1,000 per day to monitor simple water and sewer line extensions.  An extraordinary number given that private inspection services covering the same scope can be acquired for about half of this cost.

The most troubling factor with all these increases is that there has practically been no effort by the county government to engage in an open discussion with our industry regarding how we may be able to work together to find ways to reduce county government overhead costs on all these fees. Something just doesn”t smell right when fees on the building industry are increasing everywhere, while the industry continues to loose jobs and suffer from falling prices.

But I must not close without the latest surprise: The Coup D”état!  This one just adds to make a bad situation worse: just a matter of a few weeks ago our county government sent out a notice that a new standard note will be added to all plans submitted for approval that requires the owner/developer perform televised inspections on all newly constructed sewer lines immediately after installation at the cost of many thousands of dollars to the developer.  Does concern remain that even with the new inspection fee structure in place, County forces may not be providing effective inspection?  If this is the case shouldn’t someone ask if it”s time for an overhaul of the system?

The thing impassioning most of us is not the politics as some may argue.  Instead it is the fact that these fee costs are always passed back to the end user, be it the homebuyer, the small business owner who is building a new office building or warehouse, the shop owner who rents a retail unit in a new shopping center or the consumer who wants to do commerce at that retail shop.  In these trying economic times, government needs to do its part in reviewing its cost of operation and the very first question it should ask itself upon considering any fee increase on the building industry is  “are all these costs really that necessary or could we do things differently and achieve better results more efficiently?”

Here I add one more parting thought, and that is that Climates do Change with each season.  As we leave the heat of summer and usher in winter once again, every one should take the opportunity to participate in the election process and help to make certain that the winds of change bring with them a new Board of County Commissioners that is willing to listen, collaborate and understand the cumulative impacts of their decisions have on the economic viability of our community.   Because in the end, the building industry is not the enemy; it is a vital part of the engine that grows a stronger employment base here in Frederick County.

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About the author: Jeremy Holder is the Vice President of Development with Ausherman Development Corporation II, located in Frederick County, Maryland. 

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