Monday, January 2, 2012

Grand jury: Yuba County wrongly slashed construction fee

December 30, 2011 11:40:49 PM
By Ben van der Meer/ADbvandermeer

Yuba County's chief building official allowed some construction projects to pay a "half fee" between 2005 and 2008, though he was given no authority to do so by county supervisors, says the grand jury.

The official, who was not named in the report, may have cost the county thousands in fees as a result, including on one commercial project owned by an unnamed former county supervisor.

"In reviewing the (Board of Supervisors) minutes from 2004 to 2009, there is no ordinance or resolution adopting the building permit 'half fee,'" the report said, "nor is there a request for waiver of permit fees on behalf of the previously mentioned developer and the former supervisor."

The grand jury report, released Friday, only halfway through the jury's year, recommends holding the chief building official responsible for the fees. It also urged better oversight to make sure only fees authorized by the Board of Supervisors are charged.

County spokesman Russ Brown said the report had just been released, and the county hasn't yet formed a proper response.

The report requests a response from County Administrator Robert Bendorf, the Board of Supervisors, county Community Services and Development Director Kevin Mallen and the building official, Martin Griffin.

Brown confirmed Griffin was the chief building official during the time scrutinized by the report.

Griffin, who is still the county's chief building official, said Friday he was familiar with the report, but wouldn't comment until he released his official response.

"I'm not going to cut my own throat," he said.

According to the report, the jury began investigating after a complaint that the building department only charged half the typical permit fees between 2005 and 2008 on residential construction projects where the owner of the home was the same person doing the work.

The report did not list how many times the "half fee" was charged, but noted board minutes from those years show no authorization for such a move. Supervisors interviewed by the jury were unaware of the practice.

As well, in October 2006 the building official charged the "half fee" to a commercial home developer, saving the developer $1,143.66, with a corresponding loss of that amount to the building department.

And in May 2008, the jury's review found the building official charged only the half fee to a commercial construction project owned by a former county supervisor, an $18,568.87 savings.

A similar project at the same time with different ownership did not receive the lesser fee, the report noted.

It was not clear whether the supervisor referred to in the report was a former supervisor at the time of the "half fee" being paid, or is a former supervisor only now.

Supervisor John Nicoletti said the report's allusion to someone receiving a benefit is too vague, and the board will have to investigate further before it can accurately respond.

"We'll check into what the whole story is," he said.

The building official appeared to have exhibited favoritism in granting the "half fee" but had no authority to do so, though the official said during interviews by the jury the board had directed him to make such adjustments in fees for projects where the work was being done by the owner, according to the report.

As well, the report recommended the building official be held accountable for the loss of revenue to the building department, though no dollar figure is given.

Bendorf, Mallen and Martin have 60 days to publish a public response to the report, and the board has 90 days.

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