Business & Finance

Sparta Township Council Votes to Increase Fees, Discusses Improvements to Permit Process

William Curcio and Richard LaRuffa address the township council regarding fee ordinance Credits: Jennifer Dericks
Sparta Township Council 2016 Credits: Jennifer Dericks

SPARTA, NJ – Sparta residents and contractors will be paying more for projects and repairs.  Many of the fees collected by Sparta Township for licenses and permits will be going up after the council voted to amend the relevant ordinances.

The measure did receive the attention of William Curcio, who came to address the council.  Curcio, former township manager began his remarks stating he had not returned to the chambers to speak on township business in “the 39 years since I’ve been out of town hall.”

Addressing the question of permit costs Curcio said it is a “very bad idea especially at this time.  Fewer people will get permits.”  He went on to say there are two things that deter people from getting permits, “cost and time.”

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“Every time you add to the cost people say, ‘Why should I get a permit?’” Curcio said. 

The process is also time consuming, requiring at least two visits to town hall to drop off and then pick up the permit.  “Sparta is among the quickest, but it is not quick,” Curcio said. “It’s 2017.  I can get an elephant overnight from California but it takes two weeks to get a permit.”

Curcio suggested the council move to an electronic system that would allow people to apply  online.  His suggestion included having a menu with each permit so the applicant would know what they need and know up front the cost of the permit they are seeking.

 “Eastern Propane annually spends about $30,000 in permits fees but it’s really $60,000 when considereing cost of time,” Curcio said.  “It’s actually a tax without changing the tax rate.  It affects the good people who get permits not the bad people who don’t get permits.”  Curcio said he is retiring as Executive Vice President of Eastern Propane at the end of the year.

Continuing the discussion of improving the process Curcio also suggested the council consider a program of self-inspection.  He used the example of a licensed plumber installing a hot water heater; the home owner hires the licensed plumber and can have the option of having the plumber self-inspect or have the town inspect.

Councilman Josh Hertzberg asked if the town would certify the contractors.  Curcio said there are licenses for all trades.  Those licenses would be in jeopardy if something goes wrong.  Curcio said the state already allows self-inspection for some areas.  He also said “the propane industry can self-inspect on major projects, without even needing to go through the town.”

“Penalties would have to be very stiff on self-inspection,” Curcio said.

Mayor Christine Quinn said, “It is also about marketing to educate as to why inspection is good.”

Curcio agreed, “Building and Zoning should be known as enforcement, they should be renamed Consumer Protection.”

Richard LaRuffa next came to the microphone.  “As an engineer, I don’t have to design something that is the best.  I have to design something that is safe.”  That is what is required of a licensed contractor regardless of the trade.

After the two speakers left the council chambers there was additional discussion among the council members.  Hertzberg said “I’m all for looking at better ways to do things.  I don’t know the math but I’m sure the manager does.”

Quinn said, “It’s important that we have Bill (Close) look at the fees and process for online to see if we can do it better.”

As they were discussing whether or not to table the ordinance, Hertzberg said “I’m good with this as long as we’re look at ways to make it better in the future.”

Councilman Gil Gibbs at first wanted to table the resolution but then said, “I know Mr. Close put a lot of work into it. I will support it if it is reviewed in six months after the process is reviewed.”

Quinn said, “I support the manager’s proposal but want to work to re-look at it when processes are addressed.”  She asked to have the matter added to the list of technology issues to be reviewed.

Councilman Jerry Murphy said he wants to look at a portion of the ordinance dealing with fire inspections based his “recent personal experiences.” Murphy said, “Some of these things are punitive.”

“I don’t think you should be judge and jury of your own work,” Quinn said. 

“The issue of self-inspection is not an issue with this ordinance,” Township Manager Bill Close said.

The ordinance was approved by a vote of 3-1; Quinn, Hertzberg and Gibbs voted yes, Murphy voted no.  Councilwoman Molly Whilesmith was attending her son’s band concert. 

The Fees addressed in the ordinance:

Animal Control –

  • Replacement dog license reduced from $5 to $1,
  • Delinquent fee will be $5
  • Each cat/dog impounded $30, each cat/dog redeemed $10, daily maintenance $10, returned check fee $20

Health Regulations –

Farmers Market License $75 (new)

Building and Housing $15 per fixture, new or replaced stove, fireplace, water heater, boiler, furnace, a/c, pool heater, oil/propane tank or gas lines $100, additional appliance on the same permit $75, Plumbing fee to $15

Fire Protection and Prevention –

Certificate of smoke detector, carbon monoxide and fire extinguisher; Inspection application filed prior to 10 days before closing $50, less than 10 days before closing $100, exception for buyer in short sale or foreclosure $50.

Permit Fees –

Permit fees for Life Hazard Inspections shall be a provided in the New Jersey Uniform Fire Code.  Commercial occupancies not meeting Life Hazard Inspection criteria 20-500 square feet $25, 501-11,999 square feet $50.

Land Use-

  • Minor Subdivision lot line adjustment application fee $250,
  • Minor subdivision including lot line adjustment two or three lots review inspection escrow $1,200 plus $25 per lot for minor subdivision other than lot line adjustment.
  • Upon submission of preliminary major subdivision: Review inspection escrow $2,500 plus $50 per lot.
  • Upon submission of final plat: Review inspection escrow $2,000 plus $50 per lot.
  • Subdivision amendment: Application fee $500: Review inspection escrow $1,200
  • Site Plan Amendment: Application fee $500, Review inspection escrow $$1,200

The changes went into effect, unless specified in the ordinance, at the date of the approval of the ordinance.

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