Ocean City Ups Electrical Permit Minimum By 117%; Change A Result Of Building Fee Review

OCEAN CITY – Following further analysis of the permit process and man-hours involved with mechanical and electrical permits, the Mayor and City Council voted to raise the fee to a minimum of $65.

During the fiscal year 2016 budget discussion, the Mayor and City Council requested a review of the permit fee structure in the Building Department. Currently, the stand alone permit fee for electrical and mechanical permits is $30.

In July, Chief Building Official Kevin Brown came before the Mayor and City Council requesting an increase in permit fees. At that time, he explained based on administrative costs and staff time needed to process and issue permits the fee should be increased to a minimum of $45 if not more.

For comparison, the City of Salisbury charges $40 for a mechanical permit, the Town of Easton charges a minimum of $50 and the City of Annapolis charges a minimum of $90.

The City of Annapolis, Anne Arundel County and Virginia Beach charge $80 for electrical permits for 200 amp and up, Wicomico and Worcester counties both charge $25 and the City of Baltimore varies from $25 to $100.

Councilman Wayne Hartman pointed out the majority of electrical inspections are completed by a third party hired by the contractor saving city staff that time. Brown rebutted that a third party may inspect electric but not flood requirements, which led to Hartman’s recommendation.

With the new Flood Insurance Rate Maps being recently approved in Ocean City, contractors recommended the town publish a map of what air conditioning and heating stand heights would be required in certain sections of the town ultimately eliminating a step from the permit process.

Also, it was suggested the issuance of an electrical permit should be eliminated for the replacement of an air conditioning/heating unit because the wiring is not being replaced, just the equipment. Hartman pointed out Worcester County does not require an electrical permit for replacing a unit.

However, Hartman’s colleagues did not agree. Council President Lloyd Martin was the first to point out when replacing an older unit the equipment and wiring needs to be lifted to meet today’s flood requirements.

The majority of the council was in consensus the electrical and mechanical permit fees are in need of an increase but were not prepared to settle on a number. The council voted to have staff takes a closer look and return to the Mayor and City Council with further recommendation.

After further review, Brown returned to the Mayor and City Council last week and recommended mechanical and electrical permit fees be raised to a minimum of $65.

“Many electrocution deaths throughout the country are caused by faulty wiring, poor designs or poorly maintained electrical wiring. The Town of Ocean City has a responsibility to ensure public safety when it comes to electrical and mechanical work performed on both new and existing buildings,” Brown said. “This office receives many complaints throughout the year from many residents and non-residents and contractors. By requiring electrical and mechanical permits, we will be able not to only track activity through inspections and for compliance; we can also provide information when requested to owners, and third-party inspection agencies, Worcester County and Worcester County Health Department.”

Brown furthered all electrical installations are inspected to ensure the installation meets the National Electric Code standards.

“This department of building and inspection safety monitors all electric and mechanical activity from the beginning of the application process to beyond the final inspection by a third-party agency. We can avoid many problems with open communication between staff, contractors and owners,” he said. “As I had mentioned in a previous work session, it would help to offset the cost associated with issuing permits. The costs of these types of permits should not have additional burden to the general taxpayer. It is my recommendation to raise the electrical and mechanical fees based on assessment of work performed during the permit process and analysis of time associated with this process.”

Council Secretary Mark Knight made a motion to raise the minimum fee to $65.

“I didn’t agree with it before, and now it is only getting worse,” Hartman said. “Basically any outside air conditioning unit installed since 1972 should be on a FEMA stand, and seeing how many are not it just solidifies my comments at the last meeting about the lack of permits for replacement of heating and air conditioning units because they are most likely done without a permit. Once again, I am going to suggest a simple replacement of a heating and air conditioning system can be done without a permit. Have a map and the elevation required, and it can easily be done without a permit as most of them are already being done already.”

City Engineer Terry McGean interjected the town’s requirement to receive a mechanical permit all began as of result of deaths in Ocean City a number of years ago caused by the replacement of a heating unit not being connected properly causing a carbon monoxide leak.

“Electrical is also very serious as well,” Councilman Doug Cymek said.  “We had a death a few years back at a Boardwalk condominium where they were servicing a light pole that wasn’t properly grounded and it took someone’s life. I am supportive of this as well. I would like to see the penalties for not getting a permit increased to encourage people to do the right thing.”

The City Council voted 6-1 with Hartman opposed to increase the mechanical and electrical permit fees to a minimum of $65 from $30, representing a 117-percent increase.