Owners of all commercial buildings in Lower Macungie Township will start paying "reasonable" fire inspection fees in January.
The amount of those fees has not yet been determined by township commissioners, who unanimously passed a long-discussed commercial fire inspection ordinance Thursday night.
Because about 500 commercial buildings must be inspected in the township, each structure will be inspected every other year, explained Ben Galiardo, the township's deputy emergency management coordinator.
The intent of those inspections is fire prevention.
"Someone running a business is not going to look at fire hazards with the same eye as a trained inspector," said Commissioner Roger C. Reis. "We want to have these inspections done for the sake of his employees and the sake of the customers. We just want to make sure they're safe."
Commercial structures that will be inspected include schools, houses of worship, medical centers, hotels/motels, shopping centers, taverns, restaurants and warehouses. All plans for new construction also will be reviewed under the ordinance.
But Reis and Galiardo said inspections will not include people who run small “mom and pop” businesses out of their homes.
Reis said the inspection fees will not make money for the township. He described them as "revenue neutral."
"We're trying to avoid being punitive," said Reis. "When we started talking about this a couple of years ago, I was very sensitive to the fact that we don't want this to look like an impediment to business or like we're looking for a revenue stream for the township."
The fees may not be finalized until January, when the township revises all its fees, said Commissioner James Lancsek.
Lower Macungie plans to hire a contractor do to the fire inspections for the township.
The ordinance gives fire code officials the authority to enter commercial structures “at all reasonable times” and to obtain inspection warrants if entry is refused.
Results of all inspections will be discussed with property owners and inspectors may assist them in correcting unsafe conditions that are in violation of the ordinance.
Property owners also will receive written notices of violations, which will specify a time to come into compliance.
The ordinance authorizes penalties up to $1,000 or up to 30 days in jail for those who don't comply.
Fire code officials also will have the authority to have utility services cut to any building where immediate fire or explosion hazards are not eliminated.
And they can order the immediate evacuation of any occupied commercial structure if they find hazardous conditions that present an imminent danger to the building’s occupants.
Before the inspections start, the township intends to notify commercial property owners about the purpose of the new inspection program.
The inspection fees may not be finalized until January, when the township revises all its fees, said Commissioner James Lancsek.
Reis said Lower Macungie will review the fire inspection fees charged by South Whitehall and Upper Macungie townships.
Lower Macungie might base its fees on square footage, which Reis said is what South Whitehall does, but added that has not yet been decided.
Whitehall and Salisbury townships also are developing commercial fire inspection programs.