Fairfield projecting $300k shortfall in fire marshal revenue

Rendering of the planned convocation center at Fairfield University.

Rendering of the planned convocation center at Fairfield University.

Fairfield University / Contributed photo

FAIRFIELD — The town is projecting a $300,000 shortfall in revenue from the fire marshal’s office this fiscal year due to the coronavirus.

The town had budgeted $500,000 in revenue from the fire marshal’s fees for inspections and plan reviews, but is only projecting to get about $200,000 of that this year, Chief Financial Officer Jared Schmitt told the finance board at a recent meeting.

He reminded members that it is early in the fiscal year though.

“This is our first quarter. It’s early,” Schmitt said. “These numbers could change, and I think you’re going to hear that message from the net few speakers as well. Things are a little bit unpredictable at this point.”

Schmitt said a lot of the factors that drive the amount of money the town makes in fire marshal fees are outside of its control, noting it was a small portion of the budget.

“I just wanted to reassure everybody that the budget at this time is in pretty good shape,” he said.

Up until 2017, in which the office did 242 plan reviews and collected $25,907, the average revenue was in the low to mid $20,000 range, according to town documents.

Then, in 2018, 299 plan reviews were conducted, bringing in a total of $275,073. Fire Chief Denis McCarthy said the change came when the Fire Commission revised the fee schedule, adopting one similar to the building department.

MCarthy said the policy saw builders charged $5 per $1,000 of construction cost up to $5 million and $2.50 on every $1,000 above $5 million. Town documents show the revenue brought in by the office has continued to grow since the change, with 326 plan reviews conducted and $610,523 collected during the 2020 fiscal year.

McCarthy pointed out that more than $400,00 of that revenue came from 13 projects.

“You can see that it’s a very small number of projects that are affecting the revenue generation,” he said. “The majority of permits are in the $2,500 to $5,000 range.”

But, so far this year, the office has only collected $44,453 in fees, according to town data.

When constructing this year’s budget, McCarthy said, the town was still confident that many of the big projects anticipated to break ground this year were going to, even with the coronavirus pandemic in mind. Some of these larger projects include the Fairfield University convocation center and the Sacred Heart University hockey arena.

“These projects, although affected by the economic realities of (COVID-19), were still very strong, projects,” he said, noting delays were expected.

McCarthy said he believed many of the projects the town is anticipating will still be built, but it is hard to know if they will break ground this fiscal year or next.

“If in (fiscal year) 2020, 13 projects produced two-thirds of our income, over $400,000 worth of income, the projects that I have listed there have the capacity to meet our budget revenue projection,” he said. “We will have a better sense of whether we will meet that revenue projection, or come closer to that project, mid February or March.”

He also noted the fire marshals and inspector work hard to keep things moving in town.

“These three guys work day in and day out to service the commercial clients that we collect fees from - turning over construction plans for permitting and approving that in the shortest possible time to keep the economy moving forward and the construction industry moving ahead,” he said.

At the same time, McCarthy said, the officials recognize their obligation to do routine inspections of existing buildings. He said they spend their entire days, many of those forgoing lunch, running from appointment to appointment in order to keep up with the work load.