BOH grapples with expenses, votes to raise fees

by Karina Coombs

The Board of Health (BOH) continued its review of fees on March 5, in an effort to stabilize its budget, attempting to shrink the disparity between the fee charged and the actual cost of processing a permit application. Amid much debate as to the true engineering and administrative costs, the board voted to increase four fees. The previous evening, the board asked the Finance Committee for an additional $4,500 for its revolving account to help cover expenses through the end of the current fiscal year.

BOH member Cathy Galligan expressed her concern that while the board was voting to increase fees, the new amounts were still less than their actual costs. Galligan used the recent fee increase for sewage disposal plan applications as an example. She noted that along with setting a new fee, the board also reduced the number of inspections from four to two, but the board was still taking a loss. Explained BOH Chair Jeff Brem, “It is difficult to look at one specific permit and say ‘that’s what this costs and that costs.’ Some may be more and some may be less, but we can’t get exact [each time].” Asked Galligan, “But if we are off by a lot for some of these [fees], where is the money coming from?”

Board member Bill Risso expressed his concern regarding the reduction of septic system inspections. “We are looking at watering down our regulations,” Risso said. “Our mission is to protect the water.” BOH engineering consultant Rob Frado also expressed his concern that the board would be eliminating two inspections, particularly the “as built” inspection done after work is complete. “If you want to invest my time, I think inspections are the best way to go,” said Frado, pointing out that there was a greater value in getting systems done correctly, to work right and to last.

If possible under Title V, Risso suggested a two-tiered fee structure for repairs or replacement of old systems versus new construction, as a way to reduce costs without reducing inspections. “I have no problem supplementing [permit handling costs for] old construction. They were our neighbors,” said Risso. “I have a problem with new construction and a developer. Why aren’t they paying 100% [of the costs]?” he asked.

Noting that Carlisle fees were higher than those of comparable towns, Brem struggled to account for the disparity. “Bill, I’m with you on the concept, but we are either doing something wrong or something is amiss with [the] numbers. If we are doing something wrong, we have to fix it, because we shouldn’t charge more than twice any other town. What are we doing financially wrong or operationally wrong?” asked Brem. He went on to suggest that the use of a consultant with hourly rates was a reason costs were so high.

Consulting engineer comments

The board had tabulated estimated costs associated with different inspection tasks in an effort to better understand engineering expenses, which have increased in recent years. Frado questioned some of the hourly costs and believed the estimates to be high. While acknowledging his administrative billing had increased, he also explained that the board would be seeing a drop in his hours with new changes put in place.

Frado pointed out that the learning curve for understanding a number of new types of septic systems had been met, and that had accounted for a considerable amount of billing in the past year. Frado and Fantasia have also created a telephone triage system, so developers’ engineers will call Fantasia to handle certain matters before they call Frado, another task that increased administrative charges. Administrative Assistant Bobby Lyman is also being used as a courier between Town Hall and Frado, instead of him coming into the office to drop things off or pick up. Finally, the board is being more mindful of Frado’s time overall. “You’re going to see that the [billed] numbers are getting lower. I think you’ll see us getting closer to the other towns,” said Frado. It was agreed that Fantasia and Frado will go over the fee schedule spreadsheet and look at engineering and administrative time, to get a better picture of billing.

“The issue is dynamic,” Brem observed after the meeting. “We are making changes and will be following up on the impacts to these.” He noted, “We need to look at the whole program including changing the consultant’s scope of services and/or consultant.”

Fees increased

In the meantime, the board voted to increase four fees: soil testing increased from $350 to $500; prepayment for additional testing days increased from $150 to $210; and observation pipe readings increased from $50 to $100. The fee for additional septic system inspections also increased to $300. The group discussed the fee associated with late appointment cancellations, but did not make a decision on changing it at this time. The board will continue reviewing the list of 37 BOH fees.

Budget requests

Galligan, Risso and Fantasia went before the Finance Committee on March 4 to submit a proposed FY14 budget, requesting a 1.4% increase above guideline. The board also requested $4,500 for its 53-1/2 revolving account, an increase of $1,200 from their earlier request on February 25 for $3,300. Galligan explained that the additional money was needed to cover administrative assistant costs through the end of the current fiscal year. ∆