When Routt County Building Department Director Ben Grush asked the Board of Commissioners on Tuesday for permission to hire a new inspector and an assistant building official, it didn’t take much convincing. They even took Grush’s request a step further.
Noting that the Building Department is self-funding based on permit fees, and that reserves are healthy, they gave Grush and Assistant County Manager Dan Weinheimer approval in advance to hire a second new inspector later this year if the county’s rising construction industry warrants.
“Is one (new inspector) enough?” Commissioner Doug Monger asked Grush.
Grush said two new employees would be sufficient as long as the new assistant director and Grush could conduct inspections themselves in a pinch.
Monger suggested they get ahead of the construction boom and make it more expedient to hire a third new employee for the department should it become necessary. Commissioners Tim Corrigan and Cari Hermacinski agreed.
The commissioners recognized that 2016’s building permit valuation of $125.47 million was easily the biggest since the 2008 record year of $333 million. Current staffing levels are at seven employees, down from a peak of 13.5 from 2004 to 2008.
Hermacinski observed that the Building Department’s revenues outstrip current expenditures by $400,000 and the estimated 2017 cost of the new hires of $106,000 (for a partial year) will allow reserves to continue to grow even if a third new hire became necessary.
After the Great Recession set in, annual permit valuations here declined steeply to a little more than $76 million in 2009 and hit bottom at $51.4 million, leading Grush’s predecessor to reduce his workforce. Former building official Carl Dunham cautioned the Board of Commissioners at the time that layoffs would cost the county its investment in advance training for the building inspectors who left the department.
Annual permit valuation increased by approximately $10 million per year from 2013 to 2014, and in October 2016, Steamboat Today reported on the ongoing construction boom after permit valuation reached $96.5 million by the end of September last year. At that point, there had been 13 new $1 million-plus home starts. Those figures were $20 million ahead of the pace in 2015.
Grush said Tuesday his department was “very close to where a (building) permit could be issued” for the Sheraton Steamboat’s $29 million renovation. Those plans involve converting more than half of the remaining hotel rooms into 112 timeshare units.
Upgrading Building Department functions
Grush told the commissioners this week he had misgivings about the service levels his department was able to provide building contractors in 2016 given the current staffing level. The hiring of an assistant director should improve the turnaround on building plan checks and provide someone who can consistently meet customers at the front desk to answer questions from customers — both contractors and homeowners, he said.
Grush said he knows there were occasions in 2016 in which a harried building inspector visited a large construction site to make a quick inspection but left the site before the foreman, working in another part of the job, knew he’d even been there.
“I think we could do a little better customer service,” Grush said. “The other thing that burns in my heart is to improve our website. I look at other building department websites around the country. They just do such a great job. I know we can do that.”