As Wichita tornado victims rebuild, county considers whether to waive permit feesBy Deb Gruver
The Wichita Eagle
As homeowners hit by the EF-3 tornado that twisted and turned along I-135 begin to rebuild, Sedgwick County officials are thinking about how far to go to help them do so.
Some commissioners think the county should open a satellite building permit office at the Oaklawn Activity Center and waive permit fees for residents repairing their storm-battered homes.
“Obviously there’s a lot of rebuilding that’s going to have to happen down there,” said Commissioner Jim Skelton, whose district includes Oaklawn.
Skelton wants to see the county waive fees for building, roofing, plumbing, electrical and mechanical permits for people affected by the April 14 tornado.
Homeowners who had insurance won’t have to pay those fees, which begin at $25, depending on the work. But for homeowners without insurance or homeowners who were underinsured, the fees could begin to add up as they rebuild to updated codes that could make repairs more expensive.
Contractors generally include the fees in their bids.
Skelton and Commission Chairman Tim Norton say they hope the county can make a decision this week about whether to waive fees. Commissioners aren’t meeting this week, but Skelton and Norton hope the county could move forward anyway to waive fees.
“The major cleanup is done, and we’re moving into the rebuilding stage,” Skelton said.
Norton was mayor of Haysville when a tornado hit in 1991. He said the county wants people to build to code but also doesn’t want to be “heavy-handed” at a time when emotions are fragile. He said most Haysville residents whose homes were damaged but not destroyed 21 years ago understood they needed to bring their homes up to code.
“We tried to pattern it ‘It’s going to make your house better, safer.’ People will find those things out as they have builders and remodelers come in and help them.”
“We need to make it easy for people” to rebuild, he said, adding that the tornado has moved from a “population-based disaster to an individual-based disaster.”
The tornado affected 3,481 people and 165 businesses. Sixty-six homes and 11 businesses had major damage; 11 homes were completely wiped out. Just less than 700 homes and 60 businesses had minor damage.
Damage was estimated last week at just more than $146 million, down from an initial estimate of $283 million. That does not include public infrastructure.
Commissioner Karl Peterjohn said he wants to “incentivize” people to rebuild and thinks the county should waive permit fees.
“I don’t think we should take advantage of people’s misfortune who through no fault of their own have to get permits,” Peterjohn said.
“The county would benefit in the long run because if homeowners get it done, their properties go back on the tax rolls. And that’s a factor come January 1.”
Commissioner Richard Ranzau noted that the state waived fees to replace birth and marriage certificates, driver’s licenses, non-driver ID cards and the titles for vehicles or mobile homes.
“I don’t have a problem giving people a break,” Ranzau said. “They’re dealing with a lot.”
County Manager William Buchanan said he thinks it’s “too early to tell” whether waiving fees will be necessary.
“We’re getting preliminary estimates about roofs, siding” and other work, he said.
Part of the discussion is simple logistics, because some people might make repairs immediately while others may opt to wait. Should the county waive fees only for a certain time?
Commissioner Dave Unruh said the county would need to look at whether it would waiving fees would be the “equitable” thing to do for the whole community.
Unruh said he doesn’t think a satellite permit center is necessary at this time.
“I’ve not been advised of the demand for it,” he said. “If we really have high demand and if there’s some sort of backup, at this point I’ve not been advised it’s a problem.”
Buchanan said there doesn’t appear to be a need yet for a satellite center, but “if there is, we can be pretty flexible.”
What residents think
Oaklawn resident Israel Bermudez plans to do roofing work himself at the home he’s owned for 10 years.
Homeowners can get a building/remodeling permit to do work themselves. The fee is based on the valuation of the work.
Flat fees for other permits such as plumbing, electrical and mechanical work start at $25.
Fees for roofing permits are based on size.
Bermudez said he thinks the county should waive fees, especially for people who didn’t have insurance.
“It ain’t a lot, but it’ll help,” he said.
His house was insured.
Oaklawn resident Jerry Tatum said a contractor is working to repair the home he’s owned since 1985, including roofing and electrical work.
“A lot of electricity in the Oaklawn area is not up to today’s codes. I had to have mine brought up to code and my neighbor’s too,” Tatum said.
He joked that as an aircraft worker, he’s staying away from doing repairs himself because he’s better at taking stuff apart than putting it back together.Reach Deb Gruver at 316-268-6400 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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