Springdale council plans to cut building fees for tornado victims


SPRINGDALE — City Council wants to help residents whose homes were damaged in the March 30 tornado by reducing the cost of city building permits required to make major repairs.

City Attorney Ernest Cate will review the measure this week to determine whether the city can change the fee for an event or whether the measure requires a change to the city ordinance.

He will also determine whether the action violates state laws allowing a mayor to declare his city a disaster area, and he will determine whether the action can be applied retroactively.

“The board wants to provide relief, but they don’t know how to get there,” Cate said during Monday’s full committee meeting.

Matthew Mendenhall’s home on Fairway Circle was destroyed by the tornado. The city demanded $1,360 to obtain a building permit for the repairs.

“I made a decision on March 30 that I never thought I would have to make – to renovate my house,” Mendenhall told the council. “I was issued a renovation permit, but it’s not a renovation. It’s a repair.”

Mike Chamlee, director of the city’s building department, said the city issues two types of building permits: new construction, the price of which is determined by the cost of construction per square foot; and alteration permits, based on a builder’s declared cost of construction.

Chamlee reported that the city issued 20 tornado-related reconstruction permits, mostly to people without insurance. Mendenhall received a modification permit, he said.

Council Member Randall Harriman explained that the insurance pays the building permit fee because the builder includes the fee in their cost estimate. Harriman said his information came from discussions this week with area insurance agents.

Mendenhall said the insurance hadn’t paid all of his home repair costs because the value of his house had risen about 33% since he bought his insurance coverage.

Council members considered several options to reduce the cost of the permit, including reducing it only for uninsured or underinsured residents.

Members considered reducing the cost of the permit for all natural disasters or only for events when the mayor declares a disaster.

Cate pointed out that residents also suffered damage from hailstorms and flooding this spring. Mayor Doug Sprouse said the flood was a disaster, but the hail was not.

Sprouse said he will declare an emergency when conditions appear to reach the dollar amount required for state and federal agencies to provide recovery financial assistance to homeowners.

Council member Mark Fougerousse suggested limiting the cost reduction to homes that have suffered damage rendering them uninhabitable.

Chamlee noted that Federal Emergency Management Agency regulations require the city to declare homes unlivable without working utilities.

Cate said state law allows a city to pardon violations of certain city codes if the codes impede repair.

He said Sprouse did it with the signs ordinance during the pandemic. The city has a restriction on the number of signs a business can display. Area restaurants added signs stating that meal pickup and delivery were available, and Sprouse allowed the signs ordinance to be relaxed.

“If we start playing with the prescription, we have to be very careful,” Sprouse said. If we change something, we have to think about it and make sure we get it right.”

“In my opinion, it’s very simple: adopt an order to cover this one-time event,” Mendenhall said. “Show the world that Springdale cares about its people.”

Council member Jeff Williams said the council also represents more than 80,000 other residents and needs to spend their tax dollars wisely. Cutting in one place could place the burden on other residents to pay, he said.

“There are a lot of issues with reducing fees,” he said.

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