School officals balk at city charging BOE for building permits

Grady County School System officials recently cried foul over a “new” City of Cairo policy of charging other local government entities for building permits and now the Cairo city council has requested a review of the policy.
“I’m seeking direction from the council as it relates to charging permit fees to public entities like the board of education or Grady County. In the past we didn’t charge fees, but a couple of years ago I said that we would begin charging ourselves and at that time we began charging other entities,” Cairo City Manager Chris Addleton said Monday night.
However, school system officials say they have never been charged in the past until last month when contractors for the school system were charged permit fees for two roof replacement projects at local schools.
School officials questioned the fees at that time and the debate has continued in recent weeks as the school system ramps up some major construction projects at both Southside Elementary School and Cairo High School.
While the general contractor is prepared to begin work on the renovation of the historic Southside auditorium, the project has been held up until it was decided whether or not the city would charge the school system and its contractor nearly $4,000 in building permit fees for the project.
Jerry Cox, the school system’s former operations director who is working part-time as a consultant on the facilities projects, contacted neighboring jurisdictions to see if any other local government charged boards of education for permit fees.
Cox’s research revealed that Thomasville City Schools, Thomas County Schools, Mitchell County Schools, and Decatur County Schools are not charged for building permits by the local government issuing the permits in those jurisdictions.
“Grady County does not charge another tax entity nor does the state fire marshal’s office,” Cox told The Messenger this week.
The first time school officials knew of the “new” policy is when the roofing contractors contacted the city about obtaining permits for the roofing projects last month.
Grady County School Superintendent Dr. Kermit Gilliard, who currently serves on the city council, was absent Monday night, but said he would have excused himself from the council’s deliberations on the matter.
“In all of our research and contacts, the Grady County Board of Education has never been charged for a building permit and we would like it to stay that way. It just doesn’t make sense to me to charge another public entity. It’s double taxation,” Dr. Gilliard said.
City Manager Addleton said he decided the city should charge itself building permits for projects such as the new Community Service Department building and Davis Park, because money is coming out of an enterprise fund into the general fund and helps defray the cost of the operation of the city building department.
School system officials say based on the projected construction costs, if the city charges fees for all of the upcoming building projects it would cost the school system nearly $30,000 in permit fees to the city.
“I served on the board of education for 18 years and we were never charged a permit fee,” Councilman James H. (Jimmy) Douglas said. He asked if the city was even required to do any inspections on school system projects.
“If we issue a permit I believe we are obligated to do some minimal inspections and I think the board of education would want us to do some inspections,” Addleton said.
Mayor Bobby Burns, who served 16 years on the Grady County Commission prior to being elected Cairo’s mayor, said the county has never charged another local government for building permits.
“I’m looking out for the city. If the council wants to waive the fee or in the future waive all permit fees for government entities then we need to make that our policy. I just want to make sure we are consistent,” Addleton said.
The city manager said in the past the school system and others including Habitat for Humanity have come before the council to request the waiving of building permit fees.
“My feeling is we should waive the permit fee for the Southside auditorium project, because right now we are holding them up. In the meantime, we need to do an analysis and come up with a policy that covers all government building projects,” Councilman Douglas said.
Douglas offered a motion to that effect which was passed unanimously by the three members of the council present, which in addition to Douglas were Ernest Cloud and Lannis Thornton. Councilmen Gilliard and Bobby Gwaltney were absent Monday night.
When contacted Tuesday, Grady County School Superintendent Gilliard said, “I appreciate the action the council took Monday night and I hope that they will approve a policy that eliminates fees for other local government entities. We do not have funds in our budget to pay approximately $30,000 in permit fees to the city.”
The Cairo city manager said he would begin additional research into the policy. “All I want is consistency and this is a matter that should not be in my hands or in the hands of the building official. I just want a clear policy and I think we can get that,” Addleton said.

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