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Amnesty from building-permit fines debated
City weighs amnesty for those who skirted process
The Arizona Republic
Jun. 9, 2008 12:00 AM
Budget cuts in Phoenix have drastically limited the city's ability to prevent illegal and unsafe construction, drawing calls for an amnesty period that would let residents escape heavy fees.
Across the city, officials say, they are seeing unsafe structures under construction. Homes are being remodeled without the necessary permits.
Since Phoenix formed a non-permitted-construction-enforcement team in 2005, the number of cases per year has grown from 656 to 4,661.
While the number of cases grows, the number of inspectors who can do something about them is shrinking. The downturn in the real-estate market led to severe cutbacks last year in Phoenix's Development Services Department, which is funded by fees from new construction.
As a result, the staff of nine that used to monitor unsafe construction has now dwindled to four. Each inspector on the enforcement team has about 1,300 cases to track at a time.
In an effort to crack down on illegal construction and to reduce the backlog of cases, Phoenix officials are debating a 30-day amnesty period during which residents who built without permits could obtain them for the original cost.
Fees for building without a permit start at $700 for a fence or other small projects and can rapidly escalate into the thousands.
"There needs to be a period" of amnesty, Councilwoman Peggy Neely said.
The amnesty period would be accompanied by a stepped-up enforcement effort that would devote more resources to stopping active construction projects that are being built without permits.
Council members say they want to increase the penalties for non-permitted construction.
"If we don't put teeth in this and people don't realize they're gonna pay a hell of a lot more than if they did it right the first time, then we're never going to get control of this situation," Councilman Claude Mattox said.
If approved by the full City Council, the program would begin Aug. 1. Officials have not decided when the amnesty period would begin.
The council's infrastructure subcommittee last week recommended the adoption of the program, designed as a trial effort that will last six months. The proposal is expected to come before the full council within the next two months.
The enforcement program would concentrate on areas with large numbers of non-permitted structures that are actively being built.
Offenders would get 30 days to pay the necessary permitting fees before being subject to penalties.
"By taking the pilot program approach outlined above, we will be able to identify and address violations while they are under construction and reduce the growing case backlog," said Mark Leonard, deputy director of Development Services, in a memo to the council.