June 24, 2022 |
In Saratoga, simmering beneath the surface for at least a year has been discontent over the unequal treatment of home builders by the town.
The issue reached a boiling this week when Bryan Drake of Triple D Construction confronted the mayor and council about how another contractor has been allowed to build without paying tap fees for water hook-ups or pave roads as required by ordinance.
Drake questioned why a competitor, Octagon Construction, was being issued permits without paying the “tap fee” to connect to the town’s water system.
The feedback from the audio system in the council chambers was symbolic of the frustration that has been mounting for months. All of the builders have been pulling building permits over the past six months ahead of busy construction season. Not all have paid tap fees on the required “pay as you go” basis.
Mayor Creed James tried to respond to Drake’s point-blank question.
Mayor James said he is working with the public works director to develop a process to ensure fees are paid. The mayor essentially conceded that not all tap have been paid as required. The concern is that a contractor could pass on the unpaid tap fee to an unsuspecting home buyer who purchases a property under the assumption that the fee had been paid when the building permit was authorized.
The case in point is a recently purchased home in a new subdivision near the airport. The home where the family is moving into has not been paved as required before “Certificate of Occupancy” is issued. Drake told council that the homeowner is moving into an uncertain situation. It also poses questions for the town and other builders.
Councilman Jon Nelson agreed with Drake’s assessment.
Tap fees are paid to the Water Enterprise account for the operation and maintenance of the town’s water system on behalf of all users, not to the town’s general fund.
Councilman Nelson’s “lost battle” refers to his position as the council liaison to the Joint Water and Sewer Board when the board overruled his argument that Octagon pay the tap fees upfront for their new subdivision near the airport more than a year ago. One of the members of the JPB is under contract to Octagon Construction as their engineer. One contractor in town, who requested anonymity, said say the board member, Craig Kopasz, is conflicted in his role on JPB and as the engineer for the Octagon subdivision.
Drake told the council that all the contractors doing business in town should be required to play by the same rules. Otherwise the town could face legal and financial liabilities when things go wrong with projects. Drake said he just wanted clarity.
Councilwoman D’Ron Campbell agreed. Nelson went further and suggested that the town should not issue any more building permits to Octagon until they pay the tap fees for the backlog of permits already issued.
During the discussion, Mayor James said that Octagon had been alerted to the issue with the tap fees and the builder was making arrangements to clear up the balance. Kristen Stocks, one of Octagon’s owners, told Bigfoot 99 that the tap fees had been paid.
Stocks also said that Octagon has until next year to pave the street, even though the town already issued the Certificate of Occupancy.
Everyone involved in the issue, from Councilman Nelson to Bryan Drake and Kristen Stock, agree that one the underlying problems that led to much of the confusion is the town’s lack of a full-time planning and zoning officer. Town council is looking to solve the challenge. During the recently concluded budget session, the salary for the position was increased to attract more and better qualified candidates.
In the meantime, the mayor and others have been filling as they can to keep track of all of the construction that has been happening in town for the last year.