Sunday, October 14, 2007

Board of Education Protest Bill From Milton

Milton charges BOE for inspections.

by Candy Waylock / Appen Newspapers /

In the old days, when the Board of Education readied a new school in North Fulton, the county waived inspection fees – which would normally run in the thousands of dollars – but these are the new days.Thus it came to pass, when portable classrooms were installed at schools in Milton, the BOE got a bill from the city.Milton officials and the Fulton County Board of Education now are in deep discussion over the inspection and permitting process for new construction and portables placed in the new city.
The impasse, tied solely to who is financially liable, nearly delayed the placement of portables at four Milton schools this school year, according to documents obtained under Open Records.Fulton School officials maintain they cannot legally pay another government entity for permits and inspections – an arrangement it had when Fulton County handled the process.Milton officials say they cannot absorb the cost of performing work for Fulton Schools for free on the city's tight budget. 'I'm not sure we are willing to absorb the cost of permits and inspections and we don't have a lot of room in our budget to make up for that expense. I'm not sure we are willing to absorb the cost of [permits and inspections] and we don't have a lot of room [in our budget] to make up for that expense," said Tom Wilson, director of Community Development for Milton.
Milton's management firm, CH2MHILL, also declined to perform the services, noting it is outside the scope of the firm's contract.The amount of money involved could be significant. The cost of inspections and permits for a new high school from start to finish could run up to $100,000, from the initial land disturbance permit to the final inspection for the occupancy permit, said Russell.Under the deadline of an Aug. 13 school opening, Fulton Schools finally paid Milton $3,480 "in protest" Aug. 8 to get temporary occupancy permits (TOCs') for nine portable classrooms. The school system asked the funds be kept in an escrow account until a final determination is made on financial liability.

It also agreed to install city-mandated handicapped ramps into the portables. A decision it has since rescinded as it seeks instead a variance on the requirement. School officials say the ramps are unnecessary because schools simply don't put students in wheelchairs in those types of classrooms.The 30-day permits have long since expired, and not renewed by the city, but Wilson said he is all right with the situation while both sides discuss work towards a solution.Both sides are looking into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) similar to one the school system signed in June with Johns Creek to facilitate the construction process.The MOU allows the city to accept inspection reports from a third party inspector in order to issue permits, although it must still get sign off from city inspectors for fire and environmental issues.
"I am perfectly OK with a third party inspector. It's not a [major issue] as long as someone is doing it," said Wilson.Ironically, the school system is still paying the third party inspector at least the same, if not more, money it would have paid the cities for inspection.Russell acknowledges the irony, but says it shows the problems are not about money or complying with codes. The problem is on the legal battlefield."Our hands are tied legally on who we can pay," said Russell.
Cities take on permitting
The permitting problems began Jan. 1 of this year when Fulton County checked out of the inspection and permitting business in North Fulton, handing off those duties to local officials in the new cities and the existing cities – Roswell and Alpharetta."We got it thrown into their laps," conceded Russell. "This certainly added another layer of work for them, and put a lot of pressure on their existing resources. At the same time, we are on a hard deadline to get schools opened. A school opening in September does us no good."Up until last year – and for as long as anyone can remember – Fulton County provided inspections and permitting services service at no cost to the school system, and operated as a "one-stop shop."
Fast forward to this year with new cities coming on line, each with its own procedures and guidelines. Basic tasks, such as placing portables at schools and getting routine inspections for construction essentially ground to a halt while the school system and each city worked through new procedures.In the case of Milton, the transition created a procedural gridlock that threatened the opening of portables at four schools just days before school started.At Northwestern Middle School, which added two portables this year – the equivalent of four classrooms – the temporary occupancy permit was issued just two days before the first day of class Aug. 13. Prior to the permit, not one piece of furniture could be moved into the portable buildings and school administrators were seriously considering alternatives to house students.The sticking point was not only the "who pays?" issue, but the city's insistence that all new portables have handicap ramps into the buildings.
Russell said few of the 300 plus portables in the Fulton County School System have handicap ramps because students who are wheelchair bound, or who have mobility issues, are not placed in portables."If a child is in a wheelchair, that child is [housed] in the main school building which fully complies with the [American Disability Act]," said Russell. "If a situation arises during the year where a child needs a ramp, then arrangements are made within the building."Katie Reeves, the board of education member whose district includes Milton, agrees the $3,500 cost of building the ramp is not a good use of taxpayer's dollars."The school system has always been willing to put handicap ramps in if we had a child who required them, and that commitment has not changed," said Reeves. "However with our large schools it is fairly easy to schedule classes [inside the buildings]. To require a ramp on a portable is a waste of taxpayers' money."Wilson counters that the building code is the law and he has no choice but to follow it, absent a variance granted by the fire marshal. But Milton does not have a deputized fire marshal who can grant the variance. The state fire marshal has deferred the decision to the local authorities.Russell noted Milton is not the only jurisdictions imposing new requirements for the school system, and they are working through the guidelines with Roswell and Alpharetta as well.The school system is getting set to break ground on a new elementary school in Milton on Birmingham Highway opening in 2009, and is also planning a new high school on Freemanville Road to open by 2011.


Anonymous said...

Lets see, due to lack of planning for growth in student populations by the BOE, new schools open and the following year need trailers, which in turn, the cost of these trailers is billed back to the City and its residents. And we allow this to continue for....what reason? The BOE is being paid by the PEOPLE, they are on OUR Payroll thanks to SPLOST dollars, but they don't have to be accountible to any of us for any reason! Go Figure! We get what we deserve, and being stupid and uneducated on these issues is our own fault and we have enabled them to stick it to the communities in Fulton, over and over again without any accountibility! How long can one jurisdiction be allowed to dictate to those paying the bills what is going to go on in their communities! Their school plans should be approved by each City Council and parent represetatives and PTA groups, prior to any decisions made in purchasing land for schools.

How can they not afford to pay for it when they have a 800 Million Dollar budget for this year alone folks, this year only, 800 + MILLION!Get a grip!

Anonymous said...

What a crock...they have all this money that they use to overpay for land and overspend in building, but they can't pay inspection fees?

Give me a break...

Anonymous said...

How can the city take action to recall school board members?