Permit fees will increase 27 percent a year for each of the next three years, with some of the extra money going into the city's Housing trust Fund -- a program that focuses making housing more affordable in the community.
"I don't really have many concerns with the fee increase," said Jim Henry, a Lawrence city commissioner who attended a meeting with builders at City Hall. "I don't think it is unreasonable for someone who is coming into this city looking to buy a $500,000 home to pay a little extra in an effort to help those who can't afford to buy a home now."
In addition to pumping $10,000 a year into trust fund, the increased fees will cover the cost of hiring two new inspectors to enforce the city's regulations on rental units and related-zoning violations -- specifically, rules regarding the number of unrelated adults who can live in a single-family house.
Earlier this month commissioners agreed to boost the permit fees, but told concerned home builders that they would have the opportunity to meet with city officials to convince them that the fee increases were unwarranted.
The executive director of the Lawrence Home Builders Assn. and four members of the organization argued that the increases actually would hinder efforts to make Lawrence housing more affordable, would not help improve service problems in the department, and were unfair because the new revenue would be used for services that didn't directly relate to building inspections.
"I feel like we are being unfairly taxed for something that we are not directly involved with," said Lee Queen, a Lawrence builder.
Queen and others also estimated that the new fee structure could add $4,000 to $6,000 to the price of a new home in Lawrence, once builders, lenders and real estate agents all add the increase into the amounts they charge home buyers.
"If you want to increase the availability of affordable housing, don't add $6,000 to the price of every new house," Queen said.
But city officials questioned how much the increases would hinder affordable housing. Houses valued at $125,000 or less won't be subject to the new rates.
The fee increases also were defended by city staff members because the new rates only will increase the city's fees to the national average, as recommended in the Uniform Building Code.
Commissioner Marty Kennedy said that he would like staff members to continue working with the home builders, but stopped short of supporting a reduction in the new fees, which take effect Jan. 1.
City Manager Mike Wildgen said that he would provide a report to the full city commission on the builders' concerns within the next few weeks.
-- Staff writer Chad Lawhorn can be reached at 832-7190.