Bonita fire inspection fees to quadruple for new construction, renovations

It’s about to get more expensive for businesses to acquire mandated fire plan reviews and inspections for constructing and renovating buildings in south Lee County.

Commissioners with the Bonita Springs Fire Control and Rescue District approved a proposal on Monday that will more than quadruple fees for plan reviews and inspections.

The change, officials say, will go farther in covering the fire district’s fire prevention costs. Opposition to the proposal was not that increases were too high, but that they were not high enough.

Commissioners with the Bonita Springs Fire Control and Rescue District approved a three-year gradual increase in the fees for building plan reviews from the current level of $25 to $110 by 2013. Inspections fees will immediately increase from $25 to $110 come October for buildings less than 12,000 square feet. There is also an increased rate for larger buildings based on the square-footage.

The increase is the first implemented by the fire district since 2000.

Building plan reviews and inspections are mandated by the state to ensure new buildings meet fire safety codes.

Ron Pure, a Bonita citizen activist, argued that the fire district should have set rates even higher to avoid forcing property taxpayers to offset the fire prevention costs.

“This is to the detriment of the ad valorem taxpayers in the districts,” Pure said.

Bonita Springs officials report that fire inspection salaries cost the district about $230,000 annually. However, the fire district collected only $55,940 in inspection fees in 2010, the News-Press reported on Friday.

Pure argued that the fire district should at least try to cover its fire prevention expenses in fees — putting the cost on businesses not citizens.

He used Collier County inspection fees, which are still higher than the new charges the Bonita fire district will levy, as his preferred model. Review fees in Collier vary depending on the type of plan, and range from $50 to $200. Building inspection fees begin at $300.

A Collier-style hike, Pure said, would set high standards for Bonita.

Fire officials, however, said the new fee hike strikes the right balance in not placing too heavy a burden on businesses or residents.

“We didn’t feel that would be a hindrance on the business community,” said Debbi Redfield, spokeswoman for the fire district.

Fire Commissioner Ed FitzGerald called the new rates “fair to everyone involved.”

FitzGerald took issue with the idea that the fire district should charge “fee for service,” or running the fire district as if it were a for-profit business.

“It’s just not the nature of us,” he said.

In addition to Bonita, the new fees will affect new construction and renovation for commercial and multifamily structures in Estero, San Carlos Park and Fort Myers Beach pending approval from those districts.

Also at Monday’s meeting, Bonita fire commissioners approved a new early retirement incentive for eligible firefighters. The plans aim to save the district money by offering buyouts for veteran firefighters. This is the second time in five years the district has offered such an incentive.

Connect with Aaron Hale at /www.naplesnews.com/staff/aaron-hale

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