Atlanta audit: Higher permit fees led to slower wait times, surplus

Roughly three years ago, the City of Atlanta increased its building permit fees, saying it needed the additional funds to improve services and issue permits faster.

But Atlantans are still waiting for that efficiency to arrive. In fact, according to a blistering new report from City Auditor Leslie Ward, residents are seeing even longer wait times. Meanwhile, the Office of Buildings has collected a $28 million surplus – about three years worth of operating costs.

The report raises questions about whether the city has been slow to enact needed service improvements, or is overcharging its residents — a potential violation of state law, Ward said. Many permit fees doubled under the hike. For instance, a residential certificate of occupancy increased from $50 to $100. And an initial permit fee increased even more, from $75 to $200.

“It certainly suggests that they are charging too much,” Ward said of the surplus. “The fact is, it’s state law. You’re supposed to base the fees on actual costs. … A three-year operating surplus is beyond reason.”

Mayor Kasim Reed’s office acknowledged problems in the Office of Buildings and said the administration has already implemented reforms to address them.

For more on this report and what city officials plan to do in response, visit MYAJC.com.