Missoula County Approves Building Fee Increase, Makes Construction Changes

Citing the pace of construction and the complexity of some projects, Missoula County on Thursday authorized the building division to increase construction fees and make other changes to definitions and the review process.

The changes include language around simple and complex construction, finished basements versus unfinished basements, and they address the valuation method and labor rates, among other things.

“The construction division needs to raise fees in order to remain solvent and replenish the one-year expense reserves as required by state law,” said county construction manager Dave Larking. “The increases will provide funds for training, certification and adjustment of pay rates for inspection staff due to the adoption of new codes.”

Larking said a number of new codes required more time and expertise from county building inspectors. They include energy efficiency, green building, solar energy and, soon, urban interface and wildfires.

Many county methods are outdated, Larking added. Among them, the county uses a method to determine the value of a project using data generated 13 years ago.

“This dated method needs to be reviewed,” he said, suggesting the county use data generated by the International Code Council. “We also offer simple or complex valuation to better apply real value to complex projects versus a simple shelter and hold the line for the resident looking to build a basic home.”

Commissioners believe one particular change could help encourage the construction of simpler, smaller homes. These homes are generally more affordable, they said.

“I’m glad we can do something to encourage the building of smaller homes that lean more towards affordability,” Commissioner Josh Slotnick said.

Due to abuse, the county also allowed the building division to drop the agricultural exemption. Larking said the exemption was originally intended to reduce the cost of the permit for farmers who build legitimate farm shelters on their property.

Some, however, use the exemption for purposes never intended by the county. Larkin said some farm buildings are used to process and package marijuana or to store recreational vehicles as a commercial enterprise. Both uses would generally be taxed at a higher rate.

“It’s not fair to the farmers who are legitimately using these buildings for agricultural purposes,” Larking said. “But a legitimate farmer will still pay a reduced tax burden compared to someone who stores recreational vehicles or does some sort of factory use.”

County officials pushed back on early speculation that the county is ready to make more money. Construction today requires specialties in certification, from solar to green energy, and only two staff members are currently certified, Larking said.

The building division generates its own operating revenue and does not live on taxpayer dollars.

“I know there are people who think that just because there’s more buildings coming into the county, we kind of make more money because of it, but that doesn’t happen. just doesn’t go that way,” he said. . “We have a fixed budget, and it still takes a long time to do this work. The construction going on here is phenomenal, but it’s taking longer.

Larkin said the current plan review fee is based on 25% of the building fee, and the new 35% fee will bring the county’s percentage in line with the state’s current fee.

Plan reviews that require a second review due to an inaccurate or inadequate submission will be subject to a $35 administrative fee and a $75 hourly plan reviewer fee.

“The construction division doesn’t exist on tax revenue,” Slotnick said. “These guys pay for the services they provide with the fees they collect. If we want to meet the demand and do a good job, we have to increase the fees.