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City Council takes first step toward approving fire fees

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Posted: Wednesday, April 6, 2005 10:00 pm

Not all the details have been worked out, but the Lodi City Council appears as if it will approve a proposal by the Lodi Fire Department to start charging fees for some fire inspections and fire permits.

The City Council voted 4-0 Wednesday night to approve a city ordinance that changes the city's fire code adding fees for inspections and permits. The ordinance, however, is still subject to change and a resolution to set fee amounts also hasn't been approved by the City Council.

Those final steps should be taken at the City Council's next meeting scheduled for April 20.

"We've gone 20 years without this program, what's a couple more weeks?," said Councilman Bob Johnson, who added he could use more time to look into the proposed changes.

Fire Chief Michael Pretz said the department stopped charging for inspections and permits around 1985 for reasons that "quite frankly remain unknown."

He said his department's proposal will improve fire safety and prevent the huge economic losses that come from large business fires.

No business owners spoke at the public hearing on the proposed feels, but the Lodi Chamber of Commerce's president, Pat Patrick, presented the results of a survey gauging chamber members' opinions on the plan. Those opinions were largely negative, but Patrick said as only a few businesses took the survey its results are unrepresentative.

The proposed fees would support the department's fire prevention program, and would not apply to the majority of businesses, said Fire Marshal Verne Person.

Most businesses in Lodi would be subject to routine inspections that would cost nothing. Even if the department found a violation, the second inspection would still be free.

Council at a glance

In other action Wednesday, the City Council:
• Approved the beginning of the abatement process to demolish two buildings that are in violation of the city's housing code. This includes the large treehouse behind a home at 2019 Kenway Court, and an abandoned home at 428 Railroad Ave.

The property owner of the treehouse contacted the city Wednesday and would like to comply with the city. He has been ordered by the City's Attorney office to remove the treehouse.
• Adopted a resolution approving a five-year contract with LaRue Communications Inc. of Stockton for a radio transmission service for the Public Works Department. The contract would call for annual payments by the city of $14,580.
• Adopted a resolution approving payments amounting to $32,000 to the State Water Resources Control Board for groundwater contamination cleanup.
• Adopted a resolution authorizing the purchase of one mobile digital computer and radar unit at a cost of $9,477. The equipment was destroyed when a Lodi Police Department patrol car caught fire because of an engine problem.

-- News-Sentinel staff.

The first two inspections would be carried out by firefighters. If a business has not fixed a violation found in those first two, it would be subject to a third, by fire prevention staff, and be charged a fine of $75.

"Again, the first inspection and reinspection are at no charge," Person stressed to the City Council.

The department would also like to charge a wide variety of annual permits for businesses, including a $225 permit for hazardous materials, $206.25 permit for dry cleaning plant and $243.75 for compressed gas.

Person said the state fire code mandates the department issue these permits, but for the past 20 years the city hasn't charged.

Mayor John Beckman said he has no problem with the city charging for permits that are mandated by the state, but did not want to see the city charge a permit for something that has not previously required one, an example being a $150 charge for Christmas tree lot permit.

Councilman Larry Hansen said he had a problem with the department charging nonprofits for permits or inspections.

According to the department's proposal, any place of assembly with an occupancy of 50 to 299 people would be charged for a $187.50 permit.

Person said the department could make an exception for nonprofits.

The plan seemed fine to Councilwoman JoAnne Mounce, who said she feels it is appropriate and said the lack of people who turned out for the City Council meeting shows people aren't upset with the idea.

"I'm not in objection to any of this," she said.

Hansen disagreed, saying he "would put money on the counter" that if and when the City Council approves the plan, business owners will complain.

He pointed to a study done by the Lodi Chamber of Commerce, which included several angry comments by business owners saying the idea was, among other things, "a money grab," unneeded, and an additional burden for taxpayers.

He said he thinks those comments are illustrative of the business community's feelings on the plan. But despite his opinions on public reaction, Hansen appeared willing to support the fire department's proposal later.

Patrick brought the survey results to the meeting. He agreed with Hansen that he has heard negative opinions on the fire department's proposal, but said the survey could not be taken by the City Council as representative of all the chamber members, as only 53 businesses or 6 percent of the chambers total members took the survey.

"As my statistician tells me, it's not accurate," he said.

Some of the responses of the survey included that 60 percent or 28 businesses out of 47 responding did not feel the fees were justified and 65 percent or 31 businesses out of 48 responding did not feel the plan would make their businesses more safe.

Contact reporter Andrew Adams at andrewa@lodinews.com.

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