A recent study by ALT Press determined that doing the same construction job can cost more in Buffalo than in surrounding suburbs such as Cheektowaga, Amherst, and Tonawanda, because of permit fees.
For example, the fees for a $16,000 remodeling job on a residential property is $472 in Buffalo, but only $72.50 in Amherst, $95 in Tonawanda, and $96 in Cheektowaga.
Commercial construction is also more expensive.
For instance, constructing an $800,000 building in Buffalo costs $20,279 in fees, but only $3,251 in Amherst, and $3,400 in Cheektowaga.
Other Factors might also drive up cost for Buffalo homeowners.
**License fees, which, in Buffalo, even painters are required to pay, tend to increase costs and eliminate the available pool of workers. Buffalo is the only municipality studied that required painters and minor carpenters to be licensed.
**Workers and contractors are likely to charge more in Buffalo in order to cover annual licensing fees.
**The city’s requirements for getting licenses tend to limit the number of craftsmen able to work in Buffalo. The comparatively fewer are seen as likely to charge more because of supply and demand.
The Buffalo Niagara Partnership (BNP) has been working with Buffalo Mayor Anthony Masiello to help eradicate these disparities between Buffalo and other towns.
Laura Roberts, the BNP’s regional development manager, studied the issue and made recommendations to the Mayor’s office.
Because of high permit fees, “a lot of needed (repair) work ...is either not getting done, or is being done under the table, without proper safety, and workmanship standards,” she said.
Comparatively, more difficult requirements might also cost Buffalo homeowners money.
Roofers in Cheektowaga, for instance, are not required to obtain a license. In Amherst, a roofer is required only to provide proof he carries workmen’s compensation and disability insurance.
In Tonawanda, a roofer takes a written exam, pays a $100 fee, and provides proof of liability, disability, and workmen’s compensation insurance.
In Buffalo, however, a roofer, or for that matter, a painter, or carpenter, must provide proof of minimum $50,000 insurance coverage when he submits his application to city hall. His insurance policy must show a ten day cancellation clause, naming the city of Buffalo as the party to be notified. In addition, he must submit two photo IDs, submit a bank letter of credit, or actual line of credit, complete an “experience questionnaire,” submit a five part contract guaranteeing a cooling off period for door-to-door customers, attest he has money in escrow in case of emergencies, and submit his application by the Thursday before the following meeting of the Contracting Advisory Board, which meets once a month.
After making an appearance before the Board, if he secures approval, he then pays a $300 annual fee as a Home Improvement Contractor.
The entire procedure might take over a month before he can begin work.
In many cases this is difficult for new, but otherwise competent, craftsmen.
Ironically, these same contractors might offer better price and service to homeowners in Buffalo, but, because of stricter requirements, are forced to work exclusively in the suburbs.
For plumbers and electricians, the story is not disimilar
While craftsmen in Cheektowaga, Amherst, and Tonawanda pay up to$100 in annual fees, and prove they have knowledge in their field, their city colleagues, besides taking tests, and making appearances before appropriate governing boards, must pay, as in the case of electricians, a $105 non-refundable fee for an electrician’s test, plus two years’ of fees ($210) before starting work, and, in the case of plumbers, pay $132 to take the test, plus $264 to work for two years.
There are, additionally, permit fees required for jobs over $750 in Buffalo, and all these require inspection by city officials.
Although everyone Alt spoke to agreed that Buffalo city inspectors, many of whom have decades of experience, were efficient, and provided valuable technical assistance to home owners, most agreed that, if nothing else, at least, the fee structure of the system could be improved.
“Among the glaring problems is the fact that the city requires a costly inspection of every job that is done by craftspeople whom they have already licensed as master plumbers or electricians,” said Roberts.
In addition to higher fees, Alt also learned that because of the complicated structure -which city officials are quick to point out -- are the product of previous administrations-- it can sometimes be difficult to determine exactly what requirements and fees are required in Buffalo.
Complete information on permits was usually obtained by making one call to suburban town halls. It took numerous calls however to several different departments to get the necessary information from City Hall.
City officials say they do see this as an important issue, and, clearly, it is one the Massiello administration is addressing.
The Buffalo Niagara Partnership noted that “great progress” has been made since members of the Administration met with the Buffalo Development Council last March. The first reform effected was establishing a more efficient method for collecting fees; the city combined the licensing, permits, and inspection functions into a new Department of Permits and Inspections.
And the Masiello Administration pledged to complete “the majority of improvements” seen as needed to make the entire inspection and permit departments business friendly.
Still, the problem, long standing though it may be, is enough to exasperate some earnest people seeking to do business in Buffalo.
At a recent meeting of Buffalo business and governmental leaders, local contractor William Rott said, “If someone wants to have $1001 worth of work done in Buffalo, he would have to pay $104 for a permit and an application.
That’s 10% of the cost of the remodeling. What in God’s name do they need all this money for, especially when most of these jobs don’t require any type of inspection?”
Roberts agrees. “Certainly, many of these inspections and permits can be eliminated without compromising anyone’s safety. Just to put on a garage door requires a permit. And, it’s not even the cost of the permit that is the major issue, so much as the time it takes to go down to City Hall to apply for it. ”
Masiello spokesperson, Peter Cutler agreed.
“The fee structure needs to be examined and possibly changed...” he said, “There might be a better way to structure these fees.”
Roberts added that she hopes the fees could be lowered in a “revenue neutral way” in which the city could take in
just as much revenue by lowering permit fees, by encouraging more work to be done.