One city fee may go up, another hike scrapped
First round for street permit fee increase gets city council’s approval.
HAZLETON — City council approved first reading of an ordinance that would hike the price of permit fees for excavating streets, but scrapped a separate proposal that would’ve tripled the cost of a geographic information system fee the city applies to some of its permits and licenses.
Council voted unanimously Wednesday to approve first reading of an ordinance that would increase permitting and inspection fees for disturbing streets in Hazleton.
Having added a GIS documentation fee to the price of some permits, signs and licenses less than three months ago, council members voted 4-1 to reject a request to increase that fee from $5 to $15.
Mayor Jeff Cusat and engineering technician Alan Wufsus said the permitting and inspection fee increases that are paid mostly by utility companies are intended to put the city in a better position to repair disturbed streets.
“We want to make sure the funding to maintain those roads is adequate,” Cusat said.
The fee increases are included in an amended ordinance that council approved 5-0 on first reading. The new fees hinge on council approving the ordinance on two more readings.
If finalized by council, the cost for processing and issuing an excavation permit will increase from $100 to $150 for the first 50 square feet of a cut, opening or excavation, and the fee for every 50-foot increment thereafter will remain at $100, according to Wufsus.
The inspection fee would increase from $50 to $65 while a GIS component that is included in the street cutting ordinance would climb from $5 to $15. Permit fees for excavating newly constructed streets would double from $400 to $800 for the first 50 feet and from $200 to $400 for each additional 50-foot increment.
A final amendment reduces the number of years that a street is considered “newly constructed,” from six years to five years.
Wufsus said the street cut ordinance will be under further review in 2019, as Cusat asked him to consider amending it to require fullwidth milling and paving of streets — rather than limiting repairs to only areas that are disturbed.
Wilkes-Barre city requires fullwidth milling and paving, Wufsus said.
Hazleton officials will also consider requiring full-width paving in scenarios that involve continuous cuts of 100 feet or more, or “checkerboard” cuts, Wufsus said.
The city received $41,480 in revenue for street cut permit fees in 2017 and $32,750 so far this year, according to licensing and permit officials.
A separate proposal that would increase GIS documentation fees from $5 to $15 failed by a 4-1 vote.
Councilman Tony Colombo cast the lone “yes” vote.
“The fee might be a little too much at this point,” Councilman Jim Perry said.
Administrators pitched the GIS fee increase just three months after council added the $5 fee to the price of building and work permits, business sign permits, business permits, parking signs and health and restaurant licenses.
Council members rejected the GIS fee increase at a time when most fees and taxes are expected to increase. The city received court approval this year for increasing the resident earned income tax and presented a working draft budget in October that contains an option for increasing property taxes by 5 percent. Earlier this year, council established moving and yard sale permit fees while administrators pushed for increasing the cost of work permits and called for implementing a fee for maintaining the storm water system.
Cusat said the increased GIS fee would’ve helped cover the cost of hosting fees and updates for the webbased program.
Wufsus said the mayor wants to eventually issue iPads that would provide instant access to the GIS program — and keep police, fire and code enforcement informed of whether licenses, permits or violations are documented for properties in Hazleton.