|Williamstown Town Manager: Inspection Fees 'Never Optional'|
|By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff|
03:58AM / Thursday, September 27, 2018
|Williamstown Town Manager Jason Hoch addresses the Select Board on Monday evening.|
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The town manager Monday explained to the Select Board his rationale for allowing the Mount Greylock School District to wait three years to pay its permitting fees on the addition/renovation projection at the middle-high school.
Jason Hoch also talked about the process by which the town arrives at the fee schedule that has been called into question
by some district officials and residents of Lanesborough and Williamstown.
"If you go back to 2015, there were a couple of things that were in play at that point as we started to think about building fees for the high school," Hoch said at Monday's board meeting. "We had just come out of the value engineering process for the School Building Committee, and there was a lot of concern about the total price tag for the project. We also … didn't know the interest rate environment. And there was a renovation component, and if you've ever done a renovation, you know there's a lot of uncertainty.
"Also, we had just come out of a process where the communities had wrestled over how we would allocate capital costs. We had just reworked that allocation."
It was against that backdrop that Hoch agreed the district could delay payment of permitting fees until the end of the project in case the $64 million project was running over budget at the end.
"We realized in some way we had the unique ability to support the project by delaying the collection of fees," Hoch said. "That is not something we normally do. Normally, you pay when you apply [for a building permit]. We decided it made sense to make an exception here by making sure the School Building Committee had flexibility in managing finances.
"It was never an intention that fees were optional. What we wanted to do was support the project and generate goodwill. We were the only supplier that said, ‘We'll wait three years to be paid.' "
This summer, as the project neared the completion of major construction and demolition and the district was getting ready to occupy the new school (less its still delayed auditorium), Hoch reminded the district of the outstanding bill, which totals about $300,000. The School Building Committee has put off recommending the district's Transition Committee pay the bill and instead asked for more information from the town.
Hoch explained that, generally, there are two types of inspection services provided by the town: those inspections done "in house" by staff and specialty work that the town hires outside experts like electricians to perform.
"Electricians are in demand," Select Board member Hugh Daley noted. "When they come to do the inspection … they have to charge us based on what else they could be doing with their time."
And that time has been a little more valuable than usual the last couple of years with major construction projects underway in Springfield, Pittsfield and more locally on the campus of Williams College.
When the town sets its permitting fees, it does so by comparing them with other communities.
"You try not to be a dramatic outlier," Hoch said.
And those fees are adjusted from time to time.
"Williamstown used to -- and a number of towns also have -- charged a flat demolition fee," he said. "When you're taking down a library or a science center, it's a little more challenging than the $100 we were charging someone to take down their garage."
The members of the Select Board expressed satisfaction with Hoch's explanation of the fees' genesis and his decision to allow the school district to defer payment until the end of the building project. But no one on the board suggested or encouraged him to allow any other waivers or discounts to Mount Greylock.
"I'm not sure why there's a notion we should waive fees at all," Jeffrey Thomas said. "We pay our 70 percent of the fees, and Lanesborough pays its 30 percent. And if we waive them, we essentially absorb 100 percent of the cost.
"Why would we stiff the Williamstown taxpayers like that?"
Select Board Chair Anne O'Connor agreed.
"In the overall picture I'm hearing, there was an initial gesture of goodwill, and this goodwill is the bottom line of everything we're talking about all the time," O'Connor said. "For me, it's meaningful that the town manager is consistently looking out for the taxpayers' best interests. I think he knows better than I do … the approach to carry on with the fees, and I expect them to be paid and the building committee will cover the cost."
The Mount Greylock School Building Committee has invited Hoch
to its next meeting in October to discuss the outstanding bills.
In other business on Monday, the Select Board voted unanimously to appoint Cecilia Hirsch as the town's representative to the Northern Berkshire Cultural Council.
And, at the request of Police Chief Kyle Johnson, the board added language to its recently developed advisory to businesses holding alcohol licenses: "All establishments licensed to sell alcohol in the Town of Williamstown are subject to compliance checks by the Williamstown Police Department at any time while the license is active and valid."