Sunday, March 29, 2009

$600,000 in city inspection fees?

...for the high school and 8/9 construction project?
You've got to be kidding...right? Isn't that a fee on top of a tax?

...and so begins this current chapter of our continuing saga of school board and school district administration nightmares.

It all begins with Check# 92711 to SUN PRAIRIE CITY OF , in the amount of $75,000.00 for "HS 8/9 RENOVATION PERMIT"

More information was requested of this check at the school board's Finance Committee meeting this past Monday night. In response the committee was told by the Business Office:

"The question asked - what is the basis upon how the city charges for permits? The response is the permit cost for renovation is $6 for every $1,000 of construction. "
Board member Terry Shimek then asked of Phil Frei, Deputy District Administrator and head of the Business Office, " much total are we paying the city in permit fees? What do we get in return for these fees? and Have we asked the City about waiving some of these fees?"

Mr. Frei responded that since the construction was roughly $100M, at $6/$1000, the permits would cost the district $600,000. In response to the question about what we get in return for the fees, Mr. Frei simply stated that he wasn't sure...likely someone comes out to inspect a couple of times during the project. As far as inquiring about waiving part of the fees [in light of the fact that the project is for SCHOOLs], Mr. Frei indicated that there had been some discussions in the past, but the City would not consier it.

So, if you're with us so far, what we have is essentially testimony at a public meeting that the City is charging the taxpayers $600,000 out of the $100M [for which we will be taxed already] to come out and "inspect the project a couple of times". Simple math says $600,000 over a 2 -year project equals $300K per year. Wouldn't that cover the cost of the entire salary and fringes for a building inspector 3-4 times over???

Your school board voted to approve the checks and neither the board nor administration seemed inclined to pursue the matter further. Thankfully, two CITIZENS [including John Welke, who is vying for a school board seat as a write-in candidate] felt that follow-up was in order. These two citizens independently made a formal inquiry to both incumbent Mayor Joe Chase and alderman Hariah Hutkowski [who is also challenging for the Mayoral position] to verify the facts that were provided at the Finance meeting and ask follow-up questions as needed.

What these CITIZENS found was:
The permit fees are NOT $600,000, as presented by Mr. Frei. In fact, the $75,000 permit fee is the total for the 8/9 construction ($12.5M). A separate charge of $150,454.80 has already been assessed and paid for the new high school construction ($70M). A 3rd permit fee for a separate $318K portion of the new high school job required a permit fee of $1,910, which has also been paid. is typically the case, there's one side, the other side, and the truth lies somewhere in between. By looking at FACTS, we can see where the truth lies. Note that Mr. Frei was partly correct--the permit charge for the 8/9 construction and the small job both come to $6 per $1000 of construction cost. The new high school, however, was charged at a rate of a shade more than $2 per $1000 of construction. Oh, do we love inconsistency. So, for now, the two citizens have asked followup questions of the Mayor and Mr. Hutkowski to ask why the two different costing mechanisms? How does the permit fee for a job that is 1/6 of the cost of the new high school get to be 3 times more expensive???

Take a look at the Building Permit Receipts below. The "Electrical fee" for the new high school is charged "per square foot" for a fee of $7,891.20, while the "Electrical fee" for the 8/9 modifications to the existing high school is charged "by value" for a fee of $18,750. How does this make sense? We're sure that politicians can try to rationalize just about anything...but come on! This is for a school for our kids. Certainly the city could limit the charges to an amount that allows it to recoup the costs it incurs; haven't we been taxed enough?

Then, while you let that idea krausen a bit, ask yourself THESE questions:
  • Why did we get inaccurate information from school district administration?
  • Why didn't Mr. Frei pull out these permit receipts in response to the check question?
  • Why didn't the school board direct administration to pursue this matter further?
  • Why will school board members defend sea bass dinners and KitKat bars for employees ad nauseam, yet completely ignore matters such as these?
  • Isn't this sort of thing what we are paying Huffman Facility Development $7,300 PER MONTH to review and address as the "construction manager" for these projects? [See Check #92830 to HUFFMAN FACILITY DEVELOPMENT INC amount $7,300.00 HS CONSTRUCTION MGMT (and this is a monthly charge).]
SP-EYE: So, Mr. you still believe that, [the school board incumbents have]" done nothing within the past year to warrant being cast off of the school board... "? Or, perhaps we should phrase it THIS way: What have the incumbents done to merit REMAINING on the board?
Of course, Mertes goes on to say, "If this is an ideas campaign, then Welke's opponents have him beat... " and "...Welke has demonstrated his ability to research issues and has actually presented situation reports to the board on various subject matters and we believe he also would be a competent board member." Hedging your bets, Chris??

These questions are why we feel that change is in order on our school board.
Check out the ordinances related to building permit costs