It didn’t take long for results from the 2014 Pitkin County Community Survey to have an effect on the decision making within the county.
At a work session Tuesday, the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously to approve the addition of two employees to the Community Development team later this year.
Pitkin County Community Development Director Cindy Houben said the request of an additional inspector/plans examiner position and an additional zoning officer are moves her department identified as a need for 2014. The positions are needed to meet the demands of the development community and provide service levels that meet or exceed the goals of the county commissioners.
Houben said the request for the two positions became more immediate after the 2014 community survey identified that county residents weren’t satisfied with the process for obtaining permits for construction or renovation.
“This request is a direct response to the community survey,” Houben said. “We had put ourselves at a disadvantage the past few years, and now we’re addressing that situation.”
A frequent topic of concern is the current plan-review turnaround time, which is averaging six to eight weeks for houses less than 5,000 square feet and eight to 12 weeks for houses greater than 5,000 square feet, for the building-permit process from submittal to issuance.
As the development demand continues to increase, this turnaround time will only protract with current staffing levels.
“Our goal is to have a maximum four- to six-week turnaround time for all houses,” Houben said. “Those times won’t happen right away, but once we make these new hires and get them up to speed, that’s our goal.”
Historically for inspections, the county Building Department had a plans examiner, a building inspector and a shared electrical/combination inspector through an intergovernmental agreement with the city. The half inspector helped to handle the workload during the peak building season and to balance workload during non-peak times so that special projects could be completed.
Currently, the county has a plans examiner and an electrical/combination inspector.
The county building-permit-review staff includes two zoning officers and a planning engineer. Since losing the planning engineer position in 2011, one of the zoning officers has been able to absorb that workload. As building-permit volume has increased, the zoning officers have become overwhelmed with their workload and zoning has become a bottleneck in the building-permit-review process.
“We are seeking a balance in staffing levels that meets the public needs,” Houben said. “We don’t want to reduce staff again except in response to another drastic change in the economy.”
During the 2014 budget process, the Community Development Department planned to add an inspector/plans examiner position with the intent to fill the position if volume increased by 6 percent of the anticipated budget. Because the anticipated volume has surpassed expectations, both positions will be needed to maintain reasonable permit turnaround times, inspections and customer service.
The addition of the two employees would add $156,658 to the Community Development 2014 budget from salaries, benefits, insurance and additional fleet accommodations. That cost would be covered by the additional $200,000 from increased construction-permit fees that weren’t anticipated in the 2014 budget.