County Waives Permit Fees To Repair Irma-Related Damages

Palm Beach County has waived permit and expedited review fees for residents who incurred damage from Hurricane Irma.

At its Sept. 26 meeting, the Palm Beach County Commission was one of the first in the state to approve a resolution in response to Gov. Rick Scott’s executive order empowering counties to take appropriate actions to protect residents and facilitate recovery efforts from Hurricane Irma.

The resolution will authorize the county building division to expedite reviews and issue permits to begin recovery and repair without charging any fees for these services for six months.

“We took that upon ourselves to go ahead and do that to try to help people take care of their hurricane-related affairs,” County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay told the Town-Crier on Tuesday. “It was the right thing to do.”

McKinlay said residents must bring in an explanation of the damage and be able to relate the damage to the hurricane.

At the Sept. 26 meeting, County Administrator Verdenia Baker said planning staff had acted quickly to put the resolution before the commissioners.

“This is government at its best where we recognize that there are circumstances in eliminating the fees and waiving the permit fees so that we can go ahead and move forward and repair some of our buildings, residences and businesses,” Baker said.

Patrick Rutter, executive director of Palm Beach County’s Planning, Zoning & Building Division, said the resolution will authorize county staff to work with people coming with photographic evidence or insurance settlements to show that the damage is hurricane-related.

“We can work with them and offer this little bit of help along the way as they repair damage that has occurred,” Rutter said, explaining that his department will provide the commissioners with how many permits it issues and which fees are waived at the conclusion of the six months.

“I think it’s a great thing to do, and we look forward to getting it going,” he said.

The waived fees will be for six months, but with all the hurricane-related damage across the state, McKinlay said that she is concerned about having enough contractors to repair the damage within that timeframe.

“Do we have flexibility as we start to move forward on this to extend it, maybe from six months to nine months, if we see that people are having a hard time finding a licensed contractor to do some of this repair work?” McKinlay asked Rutter.

“We can come back to you,” he replied. “If we see that the volume is still occurring as we’re well into this, we would take that into consideration. We will keep track of that, and yes, that’s a possibility.”

McKinlay said counties have been under constant attack from leaders in the state legislature about county response to Hurricane Irma.

“We do the best we can,” she said. “I think we’ve done a tremendous job. We haven’t lost any lives in that whole evacuation process. Our primary responsibility is to protect lives first and foremost, and we did our job, and we are making a recovery tremendously quick, in my opinion.”

McKinlay added that recovery will be as fast as some of the partnerships that the county has to depend on in order to make things move forward.

“This is an example of local government done right,” she said. “I think that it deserves some attention among our leaders in the legislature that we are doing things to help people bounce back and recover quickly from this hurricane. I really commend you and your staff for bringing this forward to us so quickly.”

During public comment, Carol Bowen with Associated Builders and Contractors thanked commissioners for putting the item on the agenda.

“ABC represents commercial contractors from the Keys up to Brevard, and as soon as these storms ceased, we began participating in the emergency response private-sector calls under the leadership of Gov. Scott,” Bowen said. “We’ve been on some subsequent calls to try and identify ways to expedite and move forward those individuals and businesses who suffered damage and need to rebuild and repair.”

Bowen said ABC holds up Palm Beach County as an exemplary government for its continued insistence and focus on utilizing licensed contractors.

“Nobody benefits when you use unlicensed [contractors],” Bowen said. “That’s what we see in this item going forward to further support today. It’s not contractors who pay permit fees, it’s owners, and so if you think of your small residential homeowner or your small business owner who may be frustrated or overwhelmed with the potential cost, they could be enticed by those unscrupulous actors to move forward with an unlicensed contractor promising faster, cheaper and quicker.”