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Columbia County Residents About to Get Slammed: Building Permit Fees Headed Skyward – But First The County 5 Must Follow the Law

Worker holding stop sign with copy: County puts cart before horse
Photo: Emiel Van Betsbrugge | Columbia County Observer graphic

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – The infamous Columbia County 5 has on its docket tonight Building & Zoning fee increases. Some rates are up in the thousands and well over 100%. Troy Crews, the former building official of Lake City and the now director of the Columbia County Building Department, is proposing the increases.


Bradford, Columbia, Dixie, Gilchrist, Hamilton, Lafayette, Levy, Union, Putnam, and Suwannee counties were formerly known as RACECs (Rural Areas of Critical Economic Concern). This means that they are under-educated; under-employed; have low household income; depressed economic activity, a lack of business competitiveness, and are areas of persistent poverty with some school districts with free and reduced lunch rates at 100%.

In 2014, led by the Florida League of Cities, and first opposed by the Small Counties Coalition, and then not, the wizards in Tallahassee renamed RACEC communities "Rural Areas of Opportunity."

In 2019 the population in Columbia County was 71,686. The per capita income in Columbia County was $24,275, and in Florida $31,619. Columbia County was 30.25% below the state average income level.

Building department director Crews compared the permit fees of Columbia County to the upscale community of the City of Alachua, whose population in 2019 was 9,899. The per capita income was $33,331, or 10% above the state average.

The City of Alachua, whose per capita income is 37.31% above Columbia County's, is an upscale community which does not compare to Columbia County.

Director Crews’ Memo

In his memo to the County Manager, Director Crews wrote, "The budget for the Building & Zoning Department is prescribed by statute to be self-funded through the collections of permitting fees.”

This is not true: the budget of the Building & Zoning Department is not prescribed to be self-funded.

Florida statutes require fees collected by the building & zoning depart be used for:

“The direct costs and reasonable indirect costs associated with review of building plans, building inspections, reinspections, and building permit processing; building code enforcement; and fire inspections associated with new construction. The phrase may also include training costs associated with the enforcement of the Florida Building Code and enforcement action pertaining to unlicensed contractor activity to the extent not funded by other user fees.”

These fees cannot be used to subsidize the operation of the County.

Columbia County: Not In Compliance with FL Statutes

The Florida statutes are clear.

According to HB127, Chapter No. 2019-121, FL Stat. 553.80, the governing body of a local government that provides a schedule of fees shall create a building permit and utilization report and post the report on its website. The information in the report shall be derived from relevant information available in the most recently completed financial audit. 

The bill requires that by December 31, 2020, the governing body will post a newly required building permit and inspection utilization report. The report will include costs incurred and revenues derived from the enforcement of the Florida Building Code.

After December 31, 2020, a local government must update the utilization report before amending its building permit and inspection fee schedule.

Columbia County has not posted its utilization report, nor updated the report.

It cannot amend its building permit and inspection fee schedule.

*update: fixed typo in bill description and added link to session law.

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