Berlin Debates Fee Waiver For Charity Work

BERLIN — The town of Berlin is considering amending its building code to waive permitting and inspection fees associated with some charity projects.

The request was made by Stacey Esham, who appeared before the Mayor and Council representing the Small Miracles Foundation (SMF). He told the council that the foundation was a “relatively new organization” that did contracting work for area residents who displayed a large amount of need, but did not have the resources to go to regular contractors.

Esham said the majority of the foundation’s projects (20 to 30 jobs a year) were for the elderly and infirm, typically handicap ramps and the like. He came before the council specifically requesting the waiving of inspection and permitting fees on one such handicap ramp. While the fees associated with that project would only total $65, Esham argued that, for a charity group staffed solely by volunteers and funded by donations, even that amount of money could be put to good use.

“We can do a lot with $65,” he said.

However, the discussion over a specific project led to the question of whether Berlin could put language in place that would cover future charity work. Currently, requests like Esham’s are handled on a case-by-case basis. Mayor Gee Williams told the assembly that he would prefer to have umbrella language in place that could save time in the approval or denial of similar requests.

Esham pointed out that Worcester County has such a policy in place. Foundations attempting to have fees waived on charity building projects like handicap ramps have to produce a doctor’s note proving the project is necessary. However, Williams felt bringing in the need for medical confirmation might begin to complicate things.

“Let’s try and keep this as simple and flexible as possible,” he said.

Councilwoman Lisa Hall suggested putting a money cap into the language, meaning only projects under a certain cost would qualify. Esham agreed and asked that the cap be set at $1,500 as most of the construction work his foundation did cost only around $1,000.

Williams and the rest of the council were open to the idea, but asked that, if Berlin were to approve changes to its code, that Esham would make the same request of other local municipalities.

The council decided to waive the specific fees for Esham’s project while Superintendent of Planning Chuck Ward and Town Attorney Dave Gaskill work on drafting a policy that would take into account the suggestions made during the meeting.