Archive for Thursday, March 4, 2004

City council decides against waiving permit fees for Habitat house

March 4, 2004

Habitat for Humanity won't be getting any relief from the city on the permit fees for its new house.

The Baldwin City Council denied the organization's request to waive any of the permit and connection fees for Baldwin's first-ever Habitat house.

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In a 3-2 vote, with Council Members Amy Cleavinger and Tony Brown against, the council decided to approve the utility committee's recommendation not to waive any of the more than $4,100 in fees.

Council Member Ken Wagner said he wholly supported Habitat and would be more than willing to participate in a fundraiser for the project, but he had concerns with the city becoming involved in donations of this kind.

"For me, as a council member, it comes down to me as what role does the government play," Wagner said. "I think it steps out in my way of thinking what the government should provide."

Nancy Brown agreed the government played a different role than the average citizen.

"We have a slightly different responsibility than we do as citizens," she said. "Charity is not something that should be a matter of public policy. If we use tax money, we mandate citizens donate to it whether they agree with it or not."

Council Member Ted Brecheisen said if the fees were waived for the Habitat house, the cost would be passed on to the rate payers.

"Things not covered by building fees are picked up by the rate payers," Brecheisen said. "If we go giving away free money, we're taking away from somebody who's been here for 20, 30 years."

Tony Brown said one house would affect rate payers as little as a few cents.

"The economic impact seems very small," he said.

The effect of not helping Habitat, he said, would be much more costly to Baldwin.

"This does indicate that we don't support Habitat," he said. "I want to hope for better from the residents of Baldwin City."

Both Brecheisen and Nancy Brown said if the city waived the fees on this house, it would set a precedent, which could cost the city a lot of money if more Habitat houses were built in Baldwin.

Cleavinger said the city was setting a precedent, but she was afraid it was the wrong one.

"You talk about setting a precedent," she said. "We're setting a terrible one if we don't cooperate."

Mayor Ken Hayes agreed.

"I think we are going to set some precedents and I don't think they're positive," he said. "We're shielding the haves from the have nots."

Cleavinger said she thought the city had some responsibilities regarding this issue.

"I feel we have an obligation to try to facilitate affordable housing," she said. "We do have an obligation to be part of the solution and not another obstacle."

Several community members were in attendance, many in favor of waiving at least some of the permit fees for the house.

Dan Neuenswander said the house would benefit the city because it would be on the tax role and paying toward infrastructure improvements through utilities.

"That's not a bad precedent to set," he said. "I don't know that that would drive very many people out of Baldwin."

Gene Nelson said if the fees were waived, it would affect all of the rate payers, including some of the largest like Baker University and the Baldwin School District.

"You're asking non-taxable entities who could use the money for other things to pay for this project," he said.

Local business owner Dennis Waymire said the city should be able to contribute something if he was able to donate 100 percent of the plumbing to the house.

"I myself am losing money on this," he said.

Wagner, Brecheisen and Nancy Brown said they had all heard from people who were not in favor of waiving any of the fees.

"I took seven phone calls today at my business from people who wanted to talk about this," Wagner said. "Six were opposed to waiving fees."

Brecheisen said because the city didn't want to waive any fees didn't mean there wasn't support for the project.

"There's not a one of us that don't want to see this thing built," he said. "Everybody, I think, is supportive of this."

But Hayes said that's not how it appeared.

"We'll be the only city in Douglas County who had not supported this," he said. "We'll be the only city in the northeast part of the state not in support of this."

Tony Brown made the motion to charge Habitat permit and connection fees at a reduced rate of $2,175. Cleavinger seconded the motion. Tony Brown later amended his motion to only charge Habitat $1,725 in fees, and Cleavinger seconded the amendment.

The amendment failed in a 2-3 vote, with Brecheisen, Wagner and Nancy Brown voting against. Tony Brown's original motion then failed in an identical vote.

The council then approved Brecheisen's motion to not waive any fees for Habitat.

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