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Jim Thorpe considers adding fees for zoning questions

Published February 11. 2019 02:21PM

Jim Thorpe Borough is hoping to make monopolizing its zoning and building code officer’s time a thing of the past.

A proposed update to the borough’s fee schedule would add a $65 hourly fee if questions or requests of the officials are repeated and persistent.

“For example,” Borough Manager Maureen Sterner said, “we had someone come in and request the zoning officer to come to the house for the purpose of declaring the house condemned. There is no permit on file for that, so we need some kind of fee in order to recoup those costs.”

The added fee will be up for vote at Thursday’s monthly council meeting. Mayor Mike Sofranko tried to ensure that the fee would not be levied to residents working to bring their property into compliance or for run-of-the-mill zoning questions that could be easily answered.

“If we have someone working with us to bring a property into compliance, Sterner said, “we are not going to charge them. Our goal in that situation is compliance, not to charge the people.”

Sterner added that residents who come into the office with routine building code or zoning questions are not normally charged. She stressed that the fee is an effort to keep taxpayers from footing the bill for other residents’ continual questions.

“We have one case where a gentleman came in every week for a month and spent an hour or more asking the same thing,” Sterner said. “He didn’t pay for that, the taxpayers paid for that. There should be a point where we can say we’ve answered your questions and you need to either apply for a permit or make an appointment and pay the hourly rate.”

Barry Isett and Associates provides both building code and zoning services to the borough.

Sofranko said he questioned the fee because, “maybe those rates are too high.”

“Maybe someone else can do that,” he said.

The rate did not seem out of line to Councilman John McGuire.

“I think $65 for any engineering firm around here is a good rate,” McGuire said. “The rate that I’m sure comes in under other firms. We’re not here to do people’s engineering.”

Barry Isett’s bills have been a point of contention for Councilman Jay Miller, who said he is concerned with how much the borough is paying the firm a month.

“We’re paying about $5,000 a month and we have properties where nothing has changed,” Miller said. “He’s using our office. Read between the lines. I hope he’s doing everything for Jim Thorpe Borough when he’s using our office.”

The proposed fee schedule update also adds a $9 charge for a second recycling bin.

“If the first bin is damaged by the collection company, the resident will not have to pay for the replacement bin,” Sterner said.

This is a first - I tend to agree with you in this instance but based on what is in the article I think it's more a case of not admitting their zoning officer is not doing his job correctly.
This is a stupid idea to address what is perceived as an "issue". If the zoning officer can't say "We'discussed this fully, so I would advise you to either hire an engineer or attorney and/or apply to the zoning hearing board for an interpretation of my opinion" then the town needs to find a new zoning officer. Sounds like the zoning officer is at fault here for entertaining endless discussion - unfortunately morons often get into this position. Never heard of a town charging money for its zoning officer's time. I hope someone sues the town the first time they attempt to invoke this fee. That citizen is paying taxes for services. It's the service that is at fault. Idiots.

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