Bridgton to waive building permit fees for veterans

By Gail Geraghty 

Staff Writer

Residents in the military, past or present, won’t have to pay building permit fees in Bridgton under new language now being written by the Board of Selectmen.

All four of the five board members at Tuesday’s meeting enthusiastically supported the waiver idea, originally brought forward by resident Mark Lopez. They differed somewhat, however, on the language, particularly as to whether the rule should only apply to those who’ve been honorably discharged. Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz said he’d write proposed wording for the town’s Building, Razing and Plumbing Permit Ordinance, and bring it back for a vote at the Dec. 10 meeting.

The fee exemption would apply only to the primary residence of active duty or veteran military personnel, and could not be used for commercial development. Building permit fees would also be waived for additions to that residence, or accessory structures such as a garage or a shed.

With board member Bob McHatton absent Tuesday, each of the board members first had to disclose that they were veterans before they discussed the idea. The day after Veterans Day ceremonies were held in Bridgton, Chairman Doug Taft and members Ken Murphy, Paul Hoyt and Bernie King each announced the branch of the military they served in, as well as their years of service.

Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz said the disclosures were necessary, given that Lopez’s proposal could conceivably grant them a financial benefit. The “rule of necessity” allowed the board to consider the proposal despite the potential conflict of interest, because otherwise the board could not proceed at all on a proposal that would benefit many others in town, he said.

The Maine Municipal Association’s Legal Services Department was contacted for advice on the idea. MMA Staff Attorney Susanne Pilgrim wrote back to say that giving veterans a exemption form building permit fees was “supportable,” but that the definition of a “veteran” needed to be carefully defined.

The board agreed that such a waiver should not be limited to certain wars, such as in Rochester, N.H., where that city’s current exemption applies only to those who’ve served in World Wars I and II and the Korean and Vietnam Wars. The waiver should also not be limited to veterans, which by definition are those who’ve retired from active service, the board agreed.

Taft wanted to limit the number of waivers given to any individual to two, and also to make it applicable only to the primary residence, and not to accessory structures. But other board members disagreed; saying the number of fee waivers given out by the town under the proposal would not be so numerous to justify such a limitation.

Pilgrim cautioned the town to consider how the proposed fee exemption might impact the budget, pointing out that building permit fees are intended to recoup some of the administrative costs of review. “If you create the exemption, will the loss of revenue be significant?

The board didn’t seem to think so on Tuesday, as no concerns were expressed about loss of revenue. Pilgrim also wanted the town to keep in mind that providing waivers for veterans or active duty military personnel might prompt other groups in town to ask for exemptions as well.

Hoyt favored adding the stipulation that waivers only be given to those who were honorably discharged, but Taft disagreed. Taft said the military has a wide range of reasons for giving dishonorable discharges. “You could wind up with a dishonorable discharge if your politics aren’t correct,” Taft said.

Hoyt said he wouldn’t insist on the “honorable discharge” designation if the majority on the board disagreed. Resident Bill Vincent pointed out that the military also has a discharge designation that is less than honorable while not being “dishonorable” — as when a person is discharged because of a pressing need in their family.

A veteran’s discharge status could be verified by the town through that person’s DD-214 form, it was pointed out.

 

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