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After a lengthy discussion during their Jan. 22 regular meeting, Chaffee County Commissioners approved a partial waiver of permitting fees for the Buena Vista School District’s Middle school and High School construction projects. The motion made by Commissioner Keith Baker adjusts the evaluation multiplier for the BV School District to .004 and eliminates the county’s plan review fees for this project. The move eliminates approximately $90,000 of fees from the $27 million project.

In making the decision the county acknowledged that the county’s new planning review fees were not in place when the Salida School District did its major construction projects. Commissioners indicated that they valued being equitable in assigning inspection fees and plan review fees for public projects with high community benefit.

Buena Vista Schools Superintendent Lisa Yates had pointed out that inspection fees charged by the county are significantly higher than those that would be charged if the state of Colorado were to take over construction inspection.

“We’ve done millions of dollars of value engineering to keep in budget,” said Yates, explaining the request. “We’re working with a $50 million project and there will be challenges. So we’re looking for everything we can, to see how the program we brought to the community could be impacted. When we saw a line item of this size we knew we needed to at least come to you and show you the difference. We gain from using the county for inspections – our community values as much local investment as possible. But a discrepancy this large, we had to ask.”

County Development Director Dan Swallow pointed out that one of the benefits of county inspections was a much higher degree of project oversight and faster response times, while state inspections would be capped.

“When Salida Schools constructed Longfellow Elementary, that was $20 million”The larger the project, the more inspections we do. The state does 10 inspections only; that’s why they can do it for $11,000.” Swallow pointed out the the expansion at Heart of the Rockies Medical Center is paying the full and county inspection fees of .007 percent.

“This is partially funded through the state with the BEST program,” said Baker. “The state has invested a good deal of state dollars in the BEST grant and we’ve made contributions on things like the ball field and Collegiate Commons. As a county, it is in our interest to have good schools. I agree we need to look at this and come up with some way we can help with these fees, with the understanding that translates into a better school.”

BV School District representatives pointed out that they are constricted based on that BEST grant, to how much money the district has to spend; going over their design when they submitted for the grant and doing value engineering to save construction dollars. When it used the state’s site to estimate inspection fees, it had come up with a number significantly less than the county’s estimate: $36,000 versus the county’s estimate of more than $116,000.

The .007 percentage translates to what percent of its actual inspection costs the county can recoup; in the case of the current fee schedule; 70 percent of actual cost. By reducing that multiplier to .004, the county will be able to recoup 40 percent of its actual cost to conduct inspections.

Board Chair Greg Felt pointed out during deliberation that the typical multiplier to arrive at an inspection fee cost of .007 percent is a recent change which he would be willing to reduce for a public school. He added that by state statute, schools and public colleges aren’t necessarily inspected locally and can be done at the state level, while hospitals are considered local inspections. “If we remove the plan review fee and reduce the fees (rather than the dollar amounts) to .004 – it gets it down to $84.9K and it’s still a percentage.”

The final unanimous decision will save the Buena Vista School District $46,000 in actual inspection fees.