Aurora says new permit fees will help businesses cope with complicated formulas and bureaucracy

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AURORA | While building inspectors and contractors may seem like natural adversaries, the two sides might have more in common than meets the eye.

One area where they share some common ground is licenses and fees. For contractors, figuring out how much it will cost for a permit to hang a new neon sign, or what licenses a contractor needs for a new commercial build, can be a hassle for businesses.

But Scott Berg, chief building official for the city of Aurora, said those same fees and licenses can be a complicated morass for his crews, too.

And beyond that, Berg said, the building department would like to take a cue from those folks who regularly file permits and seek those licenses.

“We are starting to operate more like a business,” he said.

In just the past few weeks, city officials announced two sweeping changes to the rules for licenses and permit fees.

On the license front, the city trimmed the number of licenses it requires and is scrapping the Aurora-specific tests they previously required in favor of the International Code Council tests.

As for permits, the city is opting for a flat fee. Under the old rules, if a roofer opted for an especially-pricey set of shingles, they needed a more-expensive permit. That won’t be the case anymore. Roof permits will cost the same regardless of materials.

For some in the business community, the simpler rules in Aurora are a welcome change.

Crystal Zielbauer, a permit technician at Freeman Signs in Denver, said Aurora’s new system has moved quickly so far.

Freeman is based in northeast Denver but she said much of their work — which includes hanging the popular neon signs that line many business corridors — happens in Aurora.

The city still requires permit fees up front, which Zielbauer said can be a hassle if something goes awry with a permit, but she said the city seems to be responsive.

“They’ve listened to the customers who were complaining,” she said.

Berg said that when it comes to the flat fees, city officials decided it didn’t make sense to charge more based on material costs.

“There is no difference in the inspections,” he said. “We took a look at our costs to do the inspections  and plan reviews and said, ‘let’s base the fee off of that.’ So it shouldn’t matter how expensive a new roof is, it’s going to be the same cost for the permit.”

The hope, he said, is that the change will be helpful for local contractors who have to calculate the cost into their work.

“That’s always the unknown for the contractor. He knows his costs, but what’s the city gonna charge me for my permit?” he said. “And it changes wildly based on where you go.”

The change means some contractors will likely see higher fees on projects where they could usually count on less-expensive materials meaning a cheaper permit. But Berg said the new permits are based on an average of the old ones so the cost to the city will be a wash.

“Overall in the long run everything will even out,” he said.

When it came to the licenses, Berg said the city found that many of the 28 licenses the city required were rarely being sought, so they bumped the number down to 17.

And once city building inspectors took that international test, Berg said they realized it covered everything they needed.

“All of the guys passed them and said they were very complete and as good as what we were offering before,” he said.