Commissioners still at odds over building permits bill

Tomassetti can’t persuade Erb, Beam to change stance

HOLLIDAYSBURG — Blair County commissioners Bruce Erb and Ted Beam Jr. have again declined to support a state Senate bill aimed at setting uniform requirements for submission of building permit information.

Commissioner Terry Tomas­setti tried Tuesday to get Erb and Beam to support the bill while recognizing the need for further changes to language in the existing law. But both said no, just like they did earlier this month when reviewing Senate Bill 1006.

“I want to see (the lawmakers) address the vagueness and lack of definitions in the current law,” Erb said.

“It’s not good clear law,” Beam said. “We have to listen to the public on this.”

Local property owners, including ones who attended Tuesday’s commissioners meeting, have taken a stance against Senate Bill 1006 based on a portion of the existing law that the bill keeps intact.

Specifically, the law and the Senate bill state that if a person makes improvements “other than painting of or normal repairs to a building, aggregating more than $2,500 in value and a building permit is not required,” then the property owner should advise the county of the improvement and its cost.

Property owners, since identifying that clause, have raised questions on the differences between improvements and repairs and how the $2,500 figure is calculated.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Tomas­setti said the $2,500 is reflective of property value, not the property owner’s costs. But that creates “a vague standard” for a property owner to judge, Tomassetti said.

State Rep. John McGinnis, R-Altoona, who attended Tuesday’s commissioners meeting, said there is some developing interest in increasing $2,500 to $4,000 and adding an escalation clause. But otherwise, McGinnis praised Senate Bill 1006 and related House Bill 1991.

It will address situations created by municipalities that aren’t submitting building permit information and school districts that are hiring personnel to identify properties for new assessments.

Beam pointed out, that in a column published in Sunday’s Altoona Mirror, a sponsoring senator acknow­ledged the need to address the $2,500 figure.

In his column, state Sen. John H. Eichelberger Jr., R-Blair, emphasized that SB 1006 was offered as a way to address a lack of clarity and uniformity within the state’s assessment and reassessment law. It won’t change current practices for projects that don’t require building permits.

“It does not — I repeat, does not — change in any way what building im­provements an owner is required to report,” Eichel­berger wrote.

Allegheny Township resident John Kasun, who attended Tuesday’s commissioners meeting, said he understands that SB 1006 “is not the issue.” But the existing law only came to light, Kasun said, because SB 1006 was introduced and allows the language to remain intact.

“I’d like to see this part of the law repealed,” Kasun told commissioners.

Property owner Joe Koehle of Altoona told commissioners he thought that building permits were created as way to make sure that property repairs and improvements were done according to code.

But apparently they’re an enforcement effort for the county, Koehle said.

Chief Assessor Deanna Heichel admitted that building permits are the county’s main source of finding out about property improvements that warrant a new assessment. She also said that many “ordinary repairs” to a property, such as a roof replacement, new cabinets and carpeting, probably wouldn’t warrant an increase in assessment.

During the county’s reassessment project, part of that effort focused on updating outdated property records to reflect current buildings and conditions.

It’s not fair, Heichel said, when a property owner’s improvements aren’t reported and the assessment remains intact while a neighbor’s improvements are reported and the assessment goes up.

But Heichel’s comments did not cause Erb or Beam to change their positions.

“Let’s fix this language before we support this,” Beam said in reference to the $2,500 threshold.

Erb also acknowledged that commissioners are individually free to contact local lawmakers and offer support or concern about Senate Bill 1006 or any proposed legislation.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.

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