Gardner City Council at last meeting in February, 2022

Read the packet provided on the City of Gardner website. CLICK HERE.

Mayor Nicholson’s letter to Gardner City Council regarding Fire Dept. fees. CLICK IMAGE for larger view.

Are Higher Fees needed in Gardner MA? Not so Fast…

The Gardner MA City Council meets informally March 7, 2022 and once again will take up the issue of whether to raise Building Department and Fire Department Fees as requested by Gardner Mayor Michael Nicholson.

How Much Money is Coming in Now?

Note that while the fees Gardner has been charging may be less than other communities, they are certainly not less than planned for in the budget. For example, Fire Department fees for fiscal year 2021 were planned to be about $5500, but more than double that , $12,975.00 was actually collected. Calendar year 2021 construction was valued at $12.5 million and the Building Department collected almost $377,000 in fees on this, or a little over 3 percent. Does Gardner really need a larger slice of the pie? The Gardner City Council will decide.

The Mayor’s Position on Fire Dept. Fees

Mayor Michael Nicholson took the position in a January 19. 2022 letter to the Gardner City Council entitled RE: Ordinance Proposal – Fire Department Fees “increase the fees for permits to reduce the amount that the taxpayers – who are not benefiting from the work being done – subsidize the work individuals and companies undertake by their own choosing.”   However, it is noted that contrary to the Mayor’s position in the Fire Dept. letter,  the mayor himself has spoken in favor of the benefits of the growth in the Chair City, some of which has made more Fire Department inspections necessary.

City Auditor Email

It is noted that according to a provided communication by the City Auditor John Richard,  the 2021 Revised Fire Department Budget had a line item planning for 5,539.00 in fees, but actual fees were $12,975.00, more than double what was anticipated. And that was for fiscal year 2021.

Email from City Auditor John Richard

It is also noted that the Mayor states “the functions of the inspections required by these permits took up approximately 50% of the time put in by our two fire departments inspectors, which equates to a time value of approximately $101,811.14.”  If that statement is accurate, it means each Fire Department inspector in total costs the City over $100,000 per year each.  Is that figure accurate?

Mayor Nicholson’s letter to Gardner City Council regarding Building Dept. fees. CLICK IMAGE for larger view.

The Mayor’s Position on Building Department Fees

In another letter of the same January 19, 2022 date entitled, “RE: Ordinance Proposal – Building Department Fees.” Mayor Nicholson stated, “With the large increase in permit applications and the larger request for inspections, we are looking to increase the fees for permits to reduce the amount that the taxpayers – who are not benefiting from the work being done – subsidize the work individuals are doing on their homes. “ Once again, it is noted that contrary to the Mayor’s position,  the mayor himself has spoken in favor of the growth in the City and its benefits to citizens, and citizens who were not part of the over 1000 building permits in the last year will benefit from the lower tax rate, and the fact that their neighbors who did improve properties will pay a higher share of overall property taxes.

Building Fees Gardner MA calendar year 2021
from Roland Jean, Building Commissioner

According to Roland Jean, C.B.O. Building Commissioner/Zoning Enforcement Officer, for the calendar year 2021, there was $12.5 million in construction value, of which $2.4 million was new residential, over $1.5 million was new commercial, and $8.6 million was additions/renovation.   The Inspectional Department Revenues on this was $366,916.00, or 3 percent of the construction value.   This represents fees higher than a year’s of interest on a mortgage and far exceeds the amount in points banks are charging.   Some citizens argue overall fees are too high, not too low.

construction value Gardner MA calendar year 2021
from Roland Jean, Building Commissioner

Commentary: Time will tell whether the City Council will raise the Fire and Building Departments fees either because they legally can or because they haven’t been raised in years, OR whether they will consider the very real positive  financial benefits Gardner citizens have enjoyed as a result of these long-running subsidies.  It may have been an inadvertent experiment in fiscal policy, but there are those citizens who would argue the lower fees have been an overall HUGE BENEFIT to the city which is in danger of having its positive growth trajectory being severely undermined by a 180 degree policy change.

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