During a conversation with the boss (city administrator) the other day, I made this statement: “Apparently, he doesn’t know what we do.” The boss jokingly replied, “I am not always sure what you do either.” At least I think he was joking.
That conversation prompted me to answer the question, “What have we been doing in the Building Inspections Department?” While the simple answers are “a lot” or “more than ever,” here are some details that support those answers.
When I came into this office in 2014, we were still using pen and paper to complete permits, filing those permits in a filing cabinet, only to have to refile them in a different filing cabinet when the permits were completed, documenting inspections on a form created in the 1980s, all while trying to manage the responsibilities of a building inspector, code enforcer and zoning administrator. While this old system is tried-and-true, in today’s society, it is not efficient.
In late 2016, we implemented a new electronic permitting system that has allowed us to be more efficient, keep better records and more easily access those records. We even track “inquiries” in our office, so that we do not have to duplicate our work when a customer inquires about a permit in June, but doesn’t apply for a permit until October. Further, we are adding many zoning-related documents and permits to the system so we can easily access that information for citizens when requested. This new system has made things much more efficient for us this year as we’ve processed over 865 permits (building, plumbing, mechanical, sign, encroachment and demolition), which is well over 300 more than the previous two years, 2015 (524) and 2016 (550).
On the code enforcement side, we’ve moved from a part-time to a full-time code compliance officer (CCO) in May of 2017. We have implemented an electronic system for managing our code violation cases, which is another module in the same software as our permitting system. This system has allowed us to create form letters, envelopes and efficiently manage all of our code violation cases. Our CCO has done a great job of keeping up with the demand, as we had over 1,000 code violation cases in 2017. Maybe the best part about those 1,000 cases is the high voluntary compliance rate from our citizens.
The third major area of responsibility in the building inspections department is to administer the zoning ordinance. This area has seen an increase in activity as well, as we’ve had approximately 60 zoning-related applications filed 2017, which is nearly twice the amount of what we’ve had in my first two years in office. While 60 applications may not sound like a lot, it is. There are a lot of things that go in motion when a zoning application comes in, and it requires a lot of man hours from many different elected and appointed officials, that ultimately have to make a decision. Our administrative assistant plays a key role in managing the zoning-related applications and preparing items for the Planning and Zoning Commission, so they can make an informed decision.
It’s safe to say things have changed for the better in the past couple of years, as the workload has nearly doubled since my first day on the job. The increase in permit and zoning applications can likely be contributed to a couple of factors: we are enforcing our city codes and ensuring permits are being obtained, and more people are investing in themselves, their properties and our community. Whatever the reason permits are being obtained, we are happy to see the activity in our office, as it’s a positive sign for our community’s growth.