Is Rover running away? Are the neighbors not keeping up their property? Is a new coffee shop opening around the corner? Many city business and enforcement costs will increase in 2022, following St. Paul City Council adoption Dec. 22, 2021. Dozens of fees and charges will increase, most by just 1.5 percent.
Some fees will have steeper hikes. Those include certificate of occupancy inspections, vacant building registration and fees for various types of elevator inspections.
The City Council and Department of Safety and Inspections (DSI) Director Ricardo Cervantes reviewed the various 2022 fees during budget presentations last fall. The increases didn’t generate public comment before the city council during December public hearings.
For many years DSI has funded its operations largely through fees, which typically are raised every few years, to cover the costs of needed inspections and issuance of various licenses and permits.
In spring 2020, when Gov. Tim Walz temporarily closed restaurants, fitness centers and other business due to the COVID-10 pandemic, Mayor Melvin Carter ordered that affected businesses get one-time breaks on fees. The businesses got a one-time 25 percent reduction in their next license fee payments and a one-time 90-day extension of the due date for payment of license fees for all business license holders whose renewal date was before Aug. 1, 2020.
In his 2022 budget presentations, Cervantes outlined the growing demands on his department. Several areas of DSI’s work have increased despite the pandemic. For example, building permits have increased steadily in recent years, with the 2021 volume up an estimated 19 percent from 2020. Permits increased 10 percent between 2019 and 2020. Requests for construction plans review have increased 13 percent from 2019-2020 levels.
The 2021 DSI budget included $20 million in various business, permit and other review changes; the 2022 budget is estimated at $20.7 million.
One area with a higher fee increase is for building inspections. The fire certificate of occupancy fee increases 10 percent. The city issues the certificates after inspecting building for health and life safety issues. The city issues about 4,500 certificate annually. The fees have remained flat since 2014, and less than 50 percent of costs were being recovered, according to Cervantes.
Fees are set by number of dwelling units in residential buildings. The fee for a single-family non-owner occupied home goes from $206 in 2021 to $227 in 2022. The fee for a fourplex increases from $264 to $290.
The fee for an apartment complex with 100 or more units increases from $913 to $1,004. Commercial building fees are set by square footage. For a 118,000 square foot building, the fee increases from $870 to $957.
Vacant building registration fees also increase, from $2,127 to $2,459, a $300-plus increase. This would recover costs of monitoring the approximately 600 registered vacant buildings in St. Paul. Monitoring is needed to deter illegal entrance and “squatters” and to make sure vacant buildings don’t fall into disrepair.
In comparison, the city of Minneapolis registered vacant building fee is $7,087.
Elevator inspections were another area where fees had greatly fallen behind the actual costs of providing service, Cervantes said. The inspections are state-mandated. The expense of inspecting elevators and similar conveyances is estimated at about $420,000 per year; the fees as of last year only recovered about $185,000 in city expenses. The fee increases are meant to improve cost recovery from 44 percent to 85 percent.
Cervantes said the increase would allow for more timely routine inspections and reduce backlogs. It would also allow for faster response to emergencies and complaints. There have been several instances in recent years where DSI staff have responded in a timely manner, after hours, at high-rise locations when elevator service was disrupted.
The fees for elevators are set by number of building stories. The fee for a building of up to five stories in height increases from $93 to $149. For a building of 21 or more stories, the fee increases from $133 to $213. Fees also increase for moving stairways or escalators, from $78 to $149. Other fees increase for freight elevators, manlifts, dock lifts and dumbwaiters.
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