Oak Creek's town board members have earned a reputation for setting their minds to a task and getting the job done. That's how they revamped their police department. That's how they got their covered hockey rink built.
But now, as they mull yet another ambitious project -- severing ties with the Routt County Building Department and establishing an Oak Creek Building Department -- we urge them to use extreme caution. The idea, borne out of frustration with the county's bureaucracy, could create more problems than it solves.
Admittedly, Oak Creek officials are not the first to complain about the building department's policies or customer service --hat is an issue county commissioners should continue to examine -- but they, unlike the average homebuilder, are in the unusual position of being able to do something about their displeasure. But just because they can establish their own building department doesn't mean they should.
The idea grew in large part from town officials' frustration about the building department's enforcement of codes relating to the town's new covered ice skating rink. The town and building department first butted heads during the project when the town built the roof without getting a building permit -- a permit the county would not grant because it said the structure was too close to a neighbor's property line. More recently, town officials balked at the county's requirements, which include installing a sprinkler system in the open-sided building and covering exterior steel beams with drywall.
Earlier this month, the board voted to waive building codes to accommodate the ice rink. Now, the board is looking at the feasibility of creating a town building department.
Although the frustration is understandable, we think creating a new building department is a bad idea.
First, although the Town Board's get-the-job-done mentality has served Oak Creek well in many instances, it also has backfired: Mayor Kathy "Cargo" Rodeman lived up to campaign promises to "fix" the police department and eliminate the town manager -- but after doing those things, Oak Creek had significant problems recruiting and retaining quality police officers, and Rodeman ultimately asked for a raise, in part because her mayorial duties became time-consuming as she took over many of the former town manager's duties.
The building-department decision could have similar consequences, because it would require training and paying a new set of town employees, not a cheap task or an easy one, given the town's recent track record.
But more importantly, establishing a town building department so that officials can ignore the county's code enforcement efforts sets a bad precedent. In recent months, the town has begun some serious code-enforcement efforts of its own -- cracking down on property owners with overgrown yards, junk or nonfunctioning vehicles on their land. The town has even gone to the extent of cleaning up some properties and billing the recalcitrant owners.
So it seems like a double standard for trustees to be telling constituents that they must obey the codes, regardless of personal cost to them, while the town itself can decide when and whether it wants to abide by codes designed to ensure public safety and welfare.
If the codes are too stringent, the town should focus its energies on having them reviewed in a broader context -- but may find they are mandated far above the county level. If establishing a town building department will be a more efficient, effective use of town funds than contracting with the county, it should be considered. But if this is nothing more than an effort to avoid being told what to do, then the board should reconsider its own priorities and the precedents it sets.