After several years of discussion with your Home Builders Association, Greenville County has announced plans to double its inspections department staff from nine inspectors to 18. Tied to this increase in staffing is a key revision to the way the county calculates its building permit fees which will result in a substantial increase in building permit fees.
During the downturn, Greenville County slashed its inspections staff and implemented a combination inspection scheme. Each inspector, while potentially a master inspector in a particular trade, was a combination inspector qualified to perform any inspection. When construction was slow, this system was sufficient.
As the pace of construction increased, the county added to staffing, but inspection volume increased faster than staffing increased. As a result, the instances when an inspector finished the day with inspections yet to be performed increased. Those remaining inspections wound up on the next day’s schedule, two days after they were requested. Fortunately, these delays have not yet become commonplace, but what has become commonplace are less-than-thorough inspections that are neither in the interest of the county, nor the builder, nor the consumer.
Unconvinced? Consider this: in December 2016, nine inspectors handled 8,000 inspections in a month when most of them took a week’s vacation. That means those nine inspectors handled an average of nearly 60 inspections per day.
Recently, Greenville County presented to your Home Builders Association a plan to correct this problem. The plan begins with hiring nine new inspectors to complement the nine inspectors already on staff.
In January the county advertised for five new inspectors, two of whom have already been hired.
In addition, the county has already “soft-launched” a new computer system for managing permits and inspection requests. This system will modernize the process of applying for permits and requesting inspections. It also will speed up reporting of the results of inspections to the permit holder.
Once the permit fee changes are implemented, the county will hire an additional four inspectors, bringing the total number of building inspectors to 18, a 100-percent increase from the current nine inspectors.
As the staffing is increased, the county also will implement a quadrant system to more efficiently assign inspectors to the largest county, geographically, in South Carolina. The county will be divided into four regions, and four inspectors will be assigned to each quadrant, one of them a supervisor. One of the 18 inspectors will be an assistant chief building official who will supervise the program, and one of the 18 will be focused on commercial and industrial “sufficiency” inspections when tenancy changes.
This staffing of course is in addition to the several staff who work at county square, administering the department, issuing permits, and working with the inspectors.
Paying For It
The last time Greenville County changed its building permit fees was 1991; and it lowered them by 40 percent with a discount that remains in place today. That may seem like a victory for our association, and it was for a while. But unfortunately we now need to agree to an increase, and a substantial one, to get the service that the industry needs.
This is how it will occur. Since 1991, Greenville County has continued to use the same Cost Per Square Foot valuation table. That table says the cost to construct a new, single-family home, is $38 per square foot.
The county has recommended, and your association has agreed, that the county begin using the current Cost Per Square Foot table. The current table says that the cost to construct a new, single-family home, is $102 per square foot. For new single-family construction, that is the entire change.
However, the county has also announced an increase to the various trades permit fees. It also has announced an 25 percent increase in the fee for commercial construction activities (the county is already using the current Cost Per Square Foot table for commercial construction).
As a refresher, the cost of a permit to construct a new single family home is calculated as follows:
(SF of house) X (cost to construct from the table) X (fee schedule) X (40% discount)
The current fee to construct a new, 2,000 SF home, is approximately $400 including trades permits. . The new fee, based on the implementation of the new valuation table and the increased trades fees, will be about $730. While a substantial increase, this fee is still well below the same fees in the City of Greenville, City of Greer, and Spartanburg County. Only Anderson County will be lower after the increase. But the fee change simply brings the fees back in line with where they were in 1991, when they were decreased.
Timing and Future Increases
The county will implement the increases to the trades permit fees and the commercial fees the week of February 6. The county has agreed to delay implementation of the change in the table, and resulting increase in fees, for new residential single-family construction until March.
In the future, the county will update the Cost Per Square Foot Table, which is published by the International Codes Council, every six months. Therefore, Home Builders will not need to bear the cost of such a large increase in fees again in the future.