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Sunday, February 5, 2023

Unfair permit fees amended by county 

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Building permits and inspections in Wrightsville Beach could go down due to an amendment passed by the New Hanover County Board of Commission during an April 21 meeting.

Chris O’Keefe, county planning and inspections director, requested a revision in the inspection fee schedules implemented on March 3.

O’Keefe said the new fee schedule, which replaced a pay-as-you-go system with a pay-per-project system, was intended to make the process more business friendly with fewer transactions.

While the new schedule was successfully implemented, O’Keefe said it resulted in increased fees for permits for residential structures in beach communities, where different permitting systems are in place.

In some cases, inspection fees doubled.

A flat fee of $150 for trade permits in beach communities was requested. The board approved the amendment, making it retroactive so overcharges would be reimbursed to building customers.

“It will certainly be considered simple by our customers and I think they’ll be grateful that we’ve looked at this and adjusted it to meet the original goal, which was to keep our fees roughly the same,” O’Keefe said.

O’Keefe said overcharges to be reimbursed total $4,000 for 17 permits.

Commissioners heard an update on input gathered from seven community forums on youth gun and gang violence from Wilmington city manager Sterling Cheatham.

Cheatham said he felt compelled to explore this issue when the city observed a spike in youth violence despite a reduction in overall crime.

The forums yielded 29 immediate, short- and long-term recommendations.

Cheatham drew attention to a handful of recommendations, including increased funding allocations for education and programs to engage youth in a positive manner.

The next step is to present the report and recommendations to businesses and organizations and entreat leadership and financial support.

“This problem is not a city problem. It is not a public safety problem. It’s not a county problem. It is a community problem. The community needs to engage around a solution,” Cheatham said.

Commissioner Jonathan Barfield Jr. pledged support, saying he hoped the county could prioritize these efforts in drafting a county budget.

“We have retracted from providing resources to programs like DREAMS and Kids Making It, organizations in my opinion that make a difference and help kids,” Barfield said.

A final forum will take place on April 29 at 5:30 p.m. in Wilmington City Council Chambers to discuss recommendations and strategize a sustained effort for change.

Commissioners also unanimously agreed to recognize April 25, 2014, as Stand Against Racism Day in New Hanover County.

The YWCA Lower Cape Fear requested the designation. Susan Fennell, YWCA executive director, thanked the board for supporting the organization’s pursuit of racial equality.

Barfield commended the organization for its efforts to empower women and challenge racism.

“As much as you think it does not exist, [racism] is still alive and well. It’s important to bring a face to it and a voice to it,” Barfield said.

The board also received annual reports from the New Hanover Soil and Water Conservation District and New Hanover County Airport Authority and made appointments to the Library Advisory Board and County Planning Board.

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