Sherman is considering new fire code and fire permitting fees updates in an effort to bring the city to current standards with other North Texas communities.
As a part of the updates, Sherman Fire Marshal Billy Hartsfield proposed increasing the permitting fees for his office from $50 to $250.
"So for a new building you may have a sprinkler system and a fire alarm," Hartsfield said. "Those components go in, and it’s my office’s job to go out and inspect those things."
The changes were recently proposed as a part of ongoing budget talks, including the city’s budget retreat in June.
Hartsfield noted that these permit fees are related to new construction and will not affect the cost of annual safety inspections offered by the department.
For new construction, contractors are required to seek permits for a variety of fire protection systems including underground sprinkler services, overhead sprinklers and fire alarm systems. Each individual permit costs about $50, but the city is proposing to raise this to $250 to be more in line with current requirements and what is being charged in neighboring communities.
The fees were most recently updated in 2006, however standards and demand on inspectors have significantly increased in the last 14 years.
"Since 2006 wages have gone up, and NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) standards have gone up, so the number of inspections we are having to do is going up," Hartsfield said.
For each permit, Hartsfield said an inspector may need to conduct two to four visits, which can take several hours. However, the current fee structure does not account for this level of service.
"It was really already in place, but the last update was in 2006. That put
"So for a new building you may have a sprinkler system and a fire alarm. Those components go in, and it’s my office’s job to go out and inspect those things."
The proposed increase would put the department close to other cities, but still below what is being charged closer to the Metroplex.
As an example, Hartsfield referred to the permitting fees for a McDonalds restaurant. While the project in Sherman would require three permits at $50 each, each permit would cost about $550 in Prosper.
In many ways these fees have been the cost to do business in many areas of North Texas, but some contractors have abused the low costs in Sherman, and the city’s relatively low inspection fees have not trickled down to business owners, Hartsfield said.
In many cases, the contractor will submit a bid, which will include a base inspection and permitting fee item. However, in many cases this will not reflect the local costs.
"The subcontractor comes in from some other city and submits a high-permit fee bid, they didn’t pass that savings on to the business owner," he said.
In addition to the permitting fees, Hartsfield is also proposing a $1,000 controlled burn fee for fires above what is permitted in the city’s ordinances. In the past, there was no fee, and this would represent an attempt to codify these requirements.
Hartsfield said he hopes that the fee would lead some to consider alternatives to burning or take it more seriously.
"We do have other resources available in the area to dispose of the brush," he said.
In addition to the permitting changes, Hartsfield is also proposing an update to the city’s fire code to the most recent professional standards, which were updated in 2018.
Currently the city uses the 2009 standards. Traditionally, these standards are updated every three years.
"That’s nothing to panic about or anything," he said. "We have just missed some updates."
Hartsfield said the department wants to pursue these updates as it will positively affect the city’s ISO rating, which in turn affects homeowner’s insurance rates for residents within the city. Also, the newer standards reflect changes in technology.
The 2018 standards include 15 changes over the 2009 standards that would reduce the costs for construction. An additional 59 standards would increase construction costs in a variety of ways. However, only 42 of those standards apply to the city of Sherman.
Among the notable changes, Hartsfield said call centers in the city would be able to have more employees staffed in a building. Also, the update would remove some redundancies with regard to fire suppression and fire resistant materials.
Michael Hutchins is the local government reporter for the Herald Democrat. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.