Talk gets heated over fire inspection fees
By Ben Rodgers
SUAMICO – A Pandora’s box was opened at the Monday, Sept. 17, Suamico village board meeting when trustees disagreed about fire inspection fees at the first reading of a proposed ordinance change.
At the request of the board, Jim Kowalkowski, village directed enforcement officer, and Joe Bertler, assistant fire chief of station no. 1, presented the board with proposed changes related to charging fees for services, the main point of discussion being a $50 annual fire inspection fee.
Kowalkowski said Suamico is unique in Brown County, as it’s the only village that does not charge some sort of fee for the two mandated fire inspections each year.
“Right now, they’re required by law to have these two inspections, it’s the cost of doing business,” he said. “The taxpayers in this community right now are paying for these inspections. Is it fair to have the taxpayers pay for that or to have the businesses pay for that?”
Lauara Nelson, village president, said fees that businesses are required to pay are ultimately passed onto the customer.
“As the daughter of a business owner, I know. It’s a fee here, it’s an assessment there. It’s something else one on top of the others, and businesses are saying ‘We’re not the rich, deep pockets that everyone thinks we are,’” Nelson said. “You might think $50 here and $25 there is no big deal… It’s not coming from the people, it’s coming from the residents who own the business, so you are making an impact on the residents of Suamico and the people who patronize those businesses are receiving a benefit.”
Trustee Mike Schneider disagreed.
“If every single fee is an impact to the consumer, then we should never have any fees whatsoever of any kind to any business,” Schneider said.
Bertler said the village does about 650 fire inspections a year, and sometimes an officer needs to return multiple times to ensure a fire code violation is taken care of.
So far in 2018, he said the fire department has had to make 92 reinspections.
Trustee Sky Van Rossum figured the village could raise roughly $16,000 a year by charging the annual inspection fee.
He said businesses that are not in compliance should face steeper penalties for each reinspection.
“If this is about raising revenue, and more importantly what this should be about is compliance, take a look at second, third, fourth inspections and significantly increase those costs,” Van Rossum said.
He also said more discussion will be merited in the coming weeks as the village looks to finalize a budget for 2019.
At the October meetings, current ordinances and fees that have not been allocated or collected will be discussed.
At later budget meetings, the possible implementation of annual inspection fees will be discussed.
“We’re going to have to figure it out on budget day because we’ll probably see increased costs like we do yearly in certain departments, like we do in everything,” Van Rossum said.
Kowalkowski said this is one way to bring in additional revenue that could be earmarked for use in the fire department.
“It’s your decision, but when you talk about additional sources of revenue, this is one of those things other communities are doing and have been doing for a long time,” he said.
In other news, the village board approved a settlement with Huntington National Bank.
Huntington wanted the property value on its location on Veterans Avenue lower than what the village believed it to be.
Mike Denor, village assessor, said the bank appealed the 2017 assessed value of $1,293,000 and countered with a value of $690,000. The two parties eventually agreed, out of court, on a reassessed value of $925,000.
This will result in a refund payment of roughly $6,500 to Huntington for the retroactive assessment.
The village will need to pay roughly $1,700 of that with the state, county, school district and technical college paying the rest.
Denor said Hunington used the dark store strategy in arguing for a lower rate.
“They utilized it, but it didn’t involve a settlement because they did accept the appraisals,” Denor said.
Trustee Dan Roddan called the decision “a disappointment.”
“At the end of the day, it’s a disappointment,” Roddan said. “We talk about our state legislators not doing their job and closing this dark store loophole.”
Finally, coming out of closed session, the board accepted a developer’s agreement with Bayland Buildings to construct luxury storage units on East Deerfield Avenue.
Roddan abstained from the vote due to a potential conflict of interest and Trustee Jason Ward was not at the meeting.