Church Leaders Question Permit Fees - - The News for South Mississippi

Church Leaders Question Permit Fees

"We'd heard that we got hit. But when you drive up from right there, it was just a total shock. A total shock," said Jeff Cunningham, as he showed visitors the damage to his church.

One of Katrina's tornadoes tore into First Baptist Church Lyman. Violent winds caused the sanctuary to explode.

"The walls came down right here. And we're assuming a tornado came in right here. And you can see the beams bent back and put the steeple down through the roof, into the sanctuary," said Cunningham, pointing to the damage.

Eleven months later the shock over the damage is lessening. But building permit fees are raising eyebrows.

"They told us it was around $5700. And we all were just shocked. Fifty-seven hundred dollars for a permit fee to rebuild after Katrina had destroyed our church," Cunningham said, shaking his head.

Complaints from residents prompted the city to reduce the cost of building permits for houses and give a refund to those home owners who'd already paid since the storm.

That refund doesn't apply to the commercial side, or churches, but the city is looking at a way to permanently reduce building permit fees, which the mayor says are about one third too high.

"Almost exactly a third. We're about 33 percent too high, which makes us among the highest and that's no place we want to be. We want to be fair and affordable," said Mayor Brent Warr.

Church leaders in Lyman aren't sure a future reduction will help them.

"We're concerned that we're going through all of this trying to help and other churches may benefit from it, but we may not if they don't make it retroactive," said Bill Spears, who chairs the board of deacons at First Baptist.

If not, church leadership will pay the $5700, and pray that bringing awareness to the issue might lessen the burden for others.

Jeff Cunningham took the church's concerns to the Gulfport City Council this week. He was told the city is considering plans to re-structure the way building fees are figured. But again, it's likely the church will have to pay the full fee for its building project.

By Steve Phillips

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