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Issue 'wasn't handled properly,' says mayor

Shoemaker opposed the dramatic increase in building permit fees.
Sault Ste. Marie city council chambers are pictured in this file photo. Kenneth Armstrong/SooToday

Purchasing a building permit to renovate or build within the City of Sault Ste. Marie will be significantly higher in 2016, though not as high as it could have been.

During the city council meeting tonight, Ward 3 councillor Matthew Shoemaker called the increase, ‘a tax on people who are building first-time homes in our community and people who are improving their existing houses.’

“If I was going to build a house tomorrow, it would cost me 28 percent more [in building permit fees] than it did yesterday,” he added.

The increase will apply to industrial, commercial, institutional and residential projects, and comes after years of zero to two percent increases in building permit fees and the depletion of the Engineering and Planning Department’s reserves.

The dilemma was originally brought to council as information during the November 9, 2015 city council meeting during the department’s budget review.

Shoemaker opposed the dramatic increase.

During the December 7 city council meeting, the department formally requested a 37-percent increase in building permit fees.

The motion at that meeting did not pass, and the department was asked to go back to the drawing board.

At tonight’s council meeting, Mayor Christian Provenzano lauded Shoemaker on his efforts to fight the increase.

“By virtue of what you raised, the original proposal — which was a [37] percent increase — has dropped about 10 percent,” said Provenzano.

Shoemaker suggested an amendment to tonight’s motion, the result of which would have decreased the building permit increase to 16 percent by eliminating the rent of $85,000 a year the department pays within the Civic Centre.

 “We are a part of the problem, so we have to be part of the solution. Let’s roll up our sleeves, find $85,000 in the budget elsewhere — or maybe even within this department. Who knows where it can be found?” said Shoemaker.

In addition to the rent charged annually to the department, in 2010 the city requested $300,000 from Engineering and Planning’s reserves for past rent.

Provenzano said the city created a problem for itself.

“From 2010 to date, including 2014 — which I was involved in — I think it’s easy and reasonable to suggest this particular issue wasn’t handled properly,” said Provenzano.

Shoemaker’s amendment to the motion failed, as Provenzano suggested council and staff will be too burdened once budget time comes around to find the $85,000.

Ward 1 councillor Steve Butland said city staff had spent more than enough time crunching the numbers and supported the 28-percent increase, which eventually passed in open council.

“I think this is our third kick at this, and you have to realize staff has spent an inordinate amount of time putting this together,” said Butland.