Our View: Building for the future

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— At first glance, it's easy to assume the city's effort to remove itself from the auspices of the Routt County Regional Building Department has more to do with money than a need for increased services. But after discussions with Steamboat Springs and Routt County officials, we believe a move to an independent contractor for building department services is both prudent and timely.

City Council members unanimously voted July 10 to cancel the city's longstanding intergovernmental agreement with the county building department. The IGA requires 12 months notice before termination, meaning it will be at least next July before we see any significant changes to the current operating structure. And while some officials hope the city and county can work out their differences over the course of the next year, it appears unlikely that will happen.

The city's decision came just three-and-a-half months after the county transferred $1.4 million from the Regional Building Department's reserve fund to the county's general fund. During the past nine years, the building department has generated a surplus of $2.4 million with a workload that consists of about 40 percent county projects and 60 percent city projects.

County officials say the transfer essentially allowed the county to pay itself back for all the years it had to subsidize the building department; some city officials say they were a little surprised by the transfer.

But those same city officials insist money has nothing to do with the cancellation of the IGA, and we're inclined to believe them. Rather, they say the move was necessary because the continued growth of Steamboat Springs has brought new challenges and needs as it relates to planning and building department services. And while the city is quick to compliment the Regional Building Department for the work it does, council members and City Manager Alan Lanning say the scope of the work provided by the department's 15 staffers is no longer sufficient.

"We're becoming an urban community," City Council member Towny Anderson said. "That requires a different set of skills. We need to change to meet these new challenges."

The Regional Building Department is responsible for all permitting and inspections of projects in the city and county. But while the county has been diligent in its inspection and permitting work, the city understandably wants more oversight, particularly as it relates to site inspection throughout the building process and coordination between the planning and building departments.

"We need a level of service that's commensurate with our liability," Anderson said.

Hiring an independent contractor to handle building department responsibilities for the city could increase efficiency and the level of service.

"The private sector can respond to changes in the industry much faster than we can," Anderson said. "They can move personnel around and they can work right along with the Planning Department."

Such an arrangement won't produce revenue for the city, Lanning said, while noting that fees are likely to increase. The Regional Building Department also plans to increase fees.

With more than $1 billion in development likely to occur at the base of the ski area in the next five to seven years - not including downtown and Steamboat West construction - it makes sense the city wants to modernize its building department services. We hope any such move is done with the community's best interests in mind.

Comments

QuitYerWhining 7 years, 5 months ago

City government obviously has too many new faces to remember that they have been down this road before in the 80's when they started their own Building Dept during the building boom that soon went bust. This move to go to a private firm is even more short sighted as well as potentially disastrous. Some food for thought. Steamboat is still a tourism based economy and the last I heard 50% of the homeowners are second, third or umpteenth owners. One major hiccup of the economy (like maybe a 3 trillion dollar debt or an all out upheaval in the Middle East or another terrorist attack that King George is hoping for) could result in a collapse in the construction market in Steamboat. People don't tend to buy second homes when the financial markets go in the crapper. Does the city council actually think the private contractors will stick around to see the construction projects are completed and are safe once the fees stop coming in? Even if the bottom doesn't fall out of the market a major slow down may be enough to send these guys out looking for greener pastures (pun intended). Maybe the building department is just the first step. Maybe Steamboat City Government needs to be completely privatized. A private firm could run the government like a business. The firm would have to be responsive to every whim or demand the constituency places on it or whammo their fired! Policy could be set up on a menu board. New ordinances enacted $10K. Major Subdivision $13K. (expedited add $5K) Variances $8K (or best offer). Privatization sounds like a good idea until nobody is willing to do the job anymore!

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