Permit fee was surprise

A ReFuel Inc. gas station is being constructed on Red Bank Road in Goose Creek.

Mark Jordan runs a small business that, among other things, designs and builds gas stations.

In recent years, he's built several stations, including one near Summerville that has solar panels, LED lighting and other green building techniques. He's building a nearly identical one in Berkeley County on Red Bank Road that included a canopy that cost him roughly $103,000 to construct.

Work on the project was going smoothly until Berkeley County's building department assessed the canopy's value at about $294,000, not the $103,000 it actually cost to build. The county's inspector then charged Jordan a permit fee based on the higher value.

The permit should have cost $300 to $500 had it been based on the actual construction cost, Jordan said.

Instead, he was charged about $1,600. Paying the extra money wasn't going to "kill me," he said. But he didn't think it made any sense either.

Jordan informed Post and Courier Watchdog about the issue along with Berkeley County Councilman Robert O. Call Jr.

Call said that during a council meeting Monday night, he asked the inspector what was going on. "He said he was using a table of construction costs, and that the closest (value) he could find was triple what (Jordan) paid to build it." Call said the inspector then shrugged his shoulders.

That wasn't good enough for Call, who said he has three decades of construction experience. "There was no reasoning or basis for the chart he was using," he said, adding that "public servants should help people find solutions," not throw up bureaucratic hurdles.

On Tuesday, Eric Greenway, the county's planning and zoning director, told Watchdog that Jordan "had some valid arguments" and that the county would refund part of the fee after Jordan showed proof of the canopy's cost.

Greenway said the county typically uses valuation tables for new construction that reflect general construction costs but that a gas canopy didn't readily fit in any category. The inspector decided to value the canopy as if it was a utility building, which happened to be much higher than the actual construction cost.

Greenway said that the county has some latitude in assigning values to projects, particularly remodeling work. "We felt it was in the best interest of everyone to work with Mr. Jordan," Greenway said.

Noting that his project will create 15 jobs, Jordan said he's concerned that some government entities bend over backward to lure large industries with tax incentives and other breaks, while small businesses are stymied by red tape and hammered with fees.

Reach Tony Bartelme at 937-5554 or tbartelme@postandcourier.com.