Monroe to continue offering popular permit fee waivers

Certain costs to be withheld for another year to promote economic development

Kelly Sullivan

Monroe downtown business owners will have at least one more year to forgo permit fees associated with improvements and development.

The Monroe City Council passed an ordinance that renews waivers for a number of permits last Tuesday, May 23. The regulations have been reviewed consistently since 2008, and have been put back in place every year, except for a 2 ½-period between 2012 and 2014.

Mayor Geoffrey Thomas said he supports the waivers, for now.

“I certainly want to see it continue for this upcoming year,” he said. “I think it is a good policy to evaluate on an annual basis. It has shown some good success in the last couple of years.”

Thomas said the ordinance has helped support the city’s approach to revitalization of the downtown corridor. If the waivers assist even a few businesses in getting up and running in town, he said, then they have done their job.

There are roughly 17 types of permits for which business owners can seek waivers. There are nearly 30 permit fees that cannot be suspended, including for model homes, planned residential development, shoreline work, fire district fees and conditional use permits.

There is a reason the city targets the downtown corridor, said Ben Swanson, city community development director.

“This area is one of those areas that has been focused on for a while — the aim for the revitalization of it,” Swanson said. “This is one of those areas where a lot of the initial entrepreneurs go and start their businesses.”

Between June 24, 2016 and this April 17, 13 people individually saved hundreds of dollars on project permit costs in downtown. The fees waived in the past year have ranged from $42 to $463. Roughly $3,077 in fees were deferred since the temporary regulations were put in place last year. Almost $10,000 in permits were waived between June 10, 2015 and March 22, 2016.

While they may seem like small amounts individually, the dollars are “a big deal to someone just starting out a business,” Swanson said.

The city believes some of the associated development activity would likely not have happened without the fee waivers. One business owner backed up that assertion.

Sharinabean’s on Main owner Sharina McCrain said she wouldn’t have been able to open if the waivers were not an option. Starting out is a challenge when there is not much extra money available for the many initial expenses, she said. 

“Further, in cases where development has been incentivized by the downtown permit fee waiver, the city may benefit from other permit revenue that might not otherwise have resulted (e.g. sales tax revenue),” according to council documents.

Thomas said it is possible that the need for the waivers will no longer be a concern in the future, and that it may not be necessary to continue to renew regulations.

The code was first adopted during the Great Recession. The new ordinance will expire on June 14, 2018.


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