An alderman wants a closer look at the permit process for renovating and improving historic buildings, so a set of fee increases for Ozark Community Center gym use, plus a host of building permit fee changes is on hold.
On Dec. 2, the Ozark Board of Aldermen voted 4-2 to push back a vote on updating the city’s fee schedules for 2020. The fee schedule is six pages long, and includes costs for services include electrical inspections, permits to hang temporary sign banners, applications for fences, personal training sessions at The OC, snow day child care, dog licensing, and all the way up to the $840 planned unit development final plan.
Ward 2 Alderman Bruce Galloway thinks the fee of $140 for a certificate of appropriateness from the Ozark Historic Preservation Committee is too high. The fee is not scheduled to change, but to remain flat at $140.
Records from the Christian County Assessor’s Office show Galloway as the owner of a building, his law office, that falls under historic preservation zoning on North Second Street. Should Galloway want to upgrade his building, he would need to obtain a certificate of appropriateness from the Ozark Historic Preservation Commission and pay the permit fee.
“The feedback that I get in my ward is that that’s too high,” Galloway said. “I myself will be writing checks for $140 or $150 per project.”
Galloway did not mention any specific examples of persons or property owners in his ward who felt that the fee to obtain a certificate of appropriateness is too high.
“It just strikes me as a bit high,” Galloway said.
Ozark Director of Planning and Development Cameron Smith explained that in order to obtain a certificate of appropriateness for historical designation, a property must go through a public hearing process before the Ozark Historic Preservation Commission.
“Staff is preparing the application and the documentation to go through the commission to review an application for approval. That’s why that fee is higher, based on time spent by staff,” Smith said.
Galloway then asked Smith about how the staff helps prepare an application packet, how many pages are in the packet and and how those pages are reviewed.
“A typical number is probably going to be around 15 pages, based on the application and documentation it requires to do it,” Smith said.
Under questioning from Galloway on Nov. 18, Smith explained a “three to four hour process,” for an employee of the city to communicate with the historical property owner in order to assemble their application packet and request any additional documents needed to complete it.
“That seems like a very long time,” Galloway said.
“Generally that’s just a lot of back and forth through email or phone conversations,” Smith said.
Fellow attorney sides with Galloway
Galloway wouldn’t say where he got the advice, only that he was advised to abstain from voting on the fee study and the potential changes to city fees tied to it after he made comments about the $140 historic preservation fee at a meeting on Nov. 18.
On Dec. 2, Galloway asked his fellow aldermen to delay voting in the new fees for 2020, so that he could get a second opinion on a perceived conflict of interest.
“A member of the staff thought that I would be violating state statutes in making comments one way or another because I own historic property and I will have to pay that fee sometime in the future,” Galloway said.
Galloway said he will contact the Missouri Ethics Commission and ask for an opinion on whether or not he should vote on the fee schedule, and on the appropriateness of his participation in debate. Galloway did not know when the Ethics Commission would deliver on his request for an opinion, but said he would ask them to provide it as quickly as possible.
Ward 3 Alderman Jason Shaffer sided with Galloway, and made a motion to table discussion to a meeting on Dec. 16. Shaffer said he did not want Galloway to abstain from voting on the fee study bill.
“I’d like to have full participation of the full board of aldermen. I think a delay, giving Bruce some time before—obviously, he doesn’t agree with the opinion that he should abstain or be excluded from the discussion—so to allow Bruce the opportunity to get an opinion from the Ethics Commission to resolve the issue one way or the other would solve the problem of the board having to go back to amend the existing fee schedule that we approved the first time,” Shaffer said.
Ward 2 Alderman Ted Smith and Ward 3 Alderman Heather Alder sided with Shaffer and Galloway and cast votes to push back a vote on the bill to Dec. 16.
“I’m asking to table so the members, the citizens of the ward that Bruce represents, which includes the historic district, can have their voice heard,” Shaffer said. “To ask Bruce to abstain muzzles, to a degree, the voices of the citizens. Bruce obviously doesn’t agree with the decision to ask him to abstain, otherwise he wouldn’t seek the opinion of the Ethics Commission.”
Ward I aldermen Nathan Posten and John Torgerson cast the two dissenting votes.
Posten said his vote came down to his desire to pass the fee study before Jan. 1, 2020, and that Galloway could revisit his discrepancy with the $140 historic preservation fee at a later date.
“We are changing a significant number of fees. To table the entire bill, with another process available to Mr. Galloway would he choose to avail himself of that later—to hold up all these changes over one—I’m opposed to that,” Posten said.
Torgerson wants to have a vote before citizens begin buying memberships at the Ozark Community Center, at a higher fee, if physical fitness is part of their New Year’s resolution.
“It seems like there are a lot of fees that we are not debating, and we’re just down to one minor one. We are weeks until the new year starts, which I’m guessing there are OC (Ozark Community Center) fees and lots of other fees that need to go into effect, and I would just hate to stall everything for one minor issue,” Torgerson said. “We’re having this discussion on one minor, little piece of a large bill.”
Torgerson is also the owner of historic property in Ozark, although he is the registered agent of TRK Investments, LLC, according to the Missouri Secretary of State’s Office. TRK Investments owns property on Second Street, on the opposite side of the downtown square from Galloway’s building.
Hours of research
City Administrator Steve Childers said that employees examine how much Ozark charges for permits and fees, and makes recommendations to adjust those fees in a way that the dollar amounts correspond to their work.
“Any fee that the city of Ozark collects has now gone through a study to make sure that the proper fee is established based on time and resources staff has to dedicate to that fee, so that we can recapture 100 percent of the cost to taxpayers,” Childers said.
The fees are devised to prevent taxpayers from footing parts of the costs for private projects.
“Basically, all of the staff—anything that you do or any processing of an application, you take an application and you track it through from beginning to the end,” Childers explained. “It’s really about time spent. You track your time all the way through the process.”
Ozark City Attorney Amanda Callaway explained that fee studies are conducted every year in Ozark, and they require all city employees to document the time they spend on each project.
“Let’s say the application volume increases considerably for that permit, then the individual doing that would note that and indicate that on the next fee study,” Callaway said. “That allows you to reanalyze what you are capturing and make sure that you are capturing the appropriate fee.”
There are always changes each year. One of note for the Department of Parks and Recreation is the facility use fee. In the past, the rental fee for parks was applied per event. Upon adoption of the fee study, the facility use fee will be applied per day. This means that entities which rent the part for two- and three-day events will be charged twice and three times what they had been paying to rent parks.