Las Vegas' fees for services such as building inspections and plan checks will increase soon.
The City Council approved the rate hikes on a 5-1 vote Wednesday, saying the increased revenue will allow the Building and Safety Department to retain employees who otherwise would be laid off.
The department's staff has already been reduced by 60 percent, said department head Chris Knight, and it has reached the point that they cannot keep up with the work.
"We're not asking for exorbitant increases at this point," Knight said. "We are simply trying to survive."
So are many businesses, said Councilman Stavros Anthony, who cast the "no" vote.
"I can't support throwing more fees on these folks," he said, adding that he worried about Las Vegas getting a reputation as an expensive place to do business.
"I'm not sure that that's the message we want to be sending right now."
The increased fees would raise the department's revenues to $7.8 million, a 25 percent increase, according to staff estimates.
The measure passed Wednesday also includes two additional increases -- 15 percent in 2012 and 10 percent in 2013. It also includes language stating that the increases can be rescinded if they are not needed.
The need now is to provide adequate services to those who are still building, a group that's shrunk sharply because of the economic downturn.
For instance, the department tries to inspect projects within a day of an inspection request, Knight said. That goal has been largely met until recently, he said.
On Wednesday, the department had 303 inspection requests as well as 68 holdovers from the day before, and 15 inspectors. That averages 25 inspections in a day for each one, when a figure of 15 to 20 inspections per day is more realistic if the job is to be done properly, Knight said.
Waiting days for an inspection costs developers money -- for an idle construction crew, for instance, or a delay to being able to rent or sell the property.
When faced with a choice between higher fees or construction delays, most would choose higher fees, said Warren Hardy, government affairs director for the Associated Builders and Contractors' Las Vegas chapter.
"The holdovers are absolutely devastating to my industry," he said.
Still, he urged a "continual review of the process" to ensure that any future fee increases are justified.
Suzette La Grange, speaking on behalf of the Commercial Real Estate Development Association, reiterated concerns about the relatively high salaries of city employees in the building department. City leaders should not increase fees in the future until the personnel costs, which are part of a collective bargaining agreement, are constrained, she said.
While the increases technically take effect immediately, the department will need a couple of months to implement the new fees and inform the construction industry, said city spokesman David Riggleman.
Contact reporter Alan Choate at email@example.com or 702-229-6435.