Municipal building departments are struggling to keep up with the volume of work following Hurricane Irma. In the Village of Islamorada, the numbers are up, from issuing about 240 permits a month to about 300 a month. The City of Marathon has already processed more permits in the six months since Hurricane Irma — 4,018 — than it did in all of 2016. Monroe County’s numbers are up too; 4,500 permits since Irma versus the 7,400 in all of 2017.
Chris Gratton of Keys Contracting Services said everyone is overwhelmed right now. “We do construction work all over the Keys, and permits are just delayed. I’ve been waiting months for a simple demolition permit in the Upper Keys, but it’s across the board.”
According to some sources, the wait is about three weeks for a roof permit and up to three months for new construction in some areas of the Keys, whether that’s a municipality or unincorporated Monroe County.
Contractors and permit issuers agree the amount of paperwork is daunting.
“I’m curious by nature, so I counted. A roof permit in Monroe County requires 62 pages of paper,” said Rainey Thompson of Guardian Roofing. “I actually bought a little red wagon from Amazon and loaded it with my paperwork to take to the county office. If you don’t laugh, you’re gonna cry.”
Marathon City Manager Chuck Lindsey said, “While we have received no federal or state reimbursement since Irma, we are doing our best to act as good stewards and always find improvements. With our current fiscal constraints, we are getting very creative on how to find efficiencies and speed up processes.”
One of the simplest methods of speeding up the process is using a “private provider service.” These are essentially private building inspectors, already approved by a local government, who come out to a site to review the work and finish the forms to be submitted for municipal or county approval. Currently working in the Keys are firms such as All Aspects and MT Causley, who employ certified planners and inspectors.
Gratton said a county inspector can be delayed and needlessly tie up a job supervisor who is waiting at a job site for the inspector. Scheduling is more certain with a private provider, he said.
At City of Marathon there is currently a backlog of 480 permits. Monroe County has a backlog of 1,631 permits that have been applied for since Hurricane Irma. Numbers from the Village of Islamorada were not available at presstime.
On Tuesday, the City of Marathon proposed changes to its current fee schedule, a flat fee based on the cost of the project. For example, new construction permit costs used to be $625 for the first 1,000 square feet and 65 cents per square foot after that. Now, it would simply be $30 per $1,000 of the project’s costs. If the project is valued at less than $1,000, the homeowner would pay the minimum permit fee of $93.50.
“Using a percentage will speed up the release of permits. It takes much longer to do it the old way and time is of the essence to get people back in their houses, keep construction workers working,” Gratton said.
Because the old system calculated by square foot, and the new system by cost, it’s difficult to quantify the difference. And while costs vary from project to project, it could mean some homeowners will pay more. Marathon Councilman Mark Senmartin said the speed of the new process is good, but the added burden to the homeowner is wrong.
“As far as remodels or additions go, the flat fee works fine,” said Senmartin. “But in new construction, you are really overpricing the job. For a $400,000 home, you’re going to pay $12,000 in permit fees plus another $3,000 for impact fees. In Marathon, we had 433 homes destroyed in the storm. We are penalizing those people with this new system.”
Marathon Councilman Dan Zieg said reducing the wait may be worth it to some homeowners.
“Right now some are waiting up to two months for a permit,” Zieg said. “Under the new system we hand you your permit inside of 15 minutes. I think the homeowner is going to be tickled pink.”
Key Colony Beach also charges a flat fee — $40 per $1,000 of project cost.
It’s unclear how Marathon will deal with cost overruns that drive up the cost of the project — such as deciding to add a pool or dock — or how permit techs can know if a contract is fairly priced. Marathon City Manager Chuck Lindsey said the streamlined process is important to put people back in the their homes as quickly as possible.
“We are going to track this,” he said. “If the numbers or the process needs to be adjusted, we can do that.”
In Islamorada and Marathon, municipal personnel have been moved from other departments to help with the onslaught of work. Islamorada Village Manager Seth Lawless is one of those people. Earlier this week, he became the interim planning director when Cheryl Ciofarri left the village’s employ. Lawless will remain in the position until a permanent replacement can be found.