Construction on the new $2.5 million Millennium Bank Building in the Wildhorse Marketplace is well under way. The Steamboat Springs City Council is expected to vote tonight on a proposal that will raise building permit fees on future construction. The measure is meant to offset declining revenues in the building department.

Photo by John F. Russell

Construction on the new $2.5 million Millennium Bank Building in the Wildhorse Marketplace is well under way. The Steamboat Springs City Council is expected to vote tonight on a proposal that will raise building permit fees on future construction. The measure is meant to offset declining revenues in the building department.

Struggling building department seeks 58 percent fee increase

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Stagecoach sewer vaults a hot topic

The Routt County Board of Commissioners will conduct a public hearing at 5:30 p.m. today in the Routt County Courthouse to consider a bid by the Morrison Creek Water and Sanitation District Board to reduce from 600 to 30 the number of permits allowing sewage vaults for 1,500 platted lots in Stagecoach.

The district maintains that its treatment plant could not cope with the abrupt increase in loads that resulted when the contents of the number of approved vaults were pumped and delivered to the treatment plant by truck.

The implications are that subdivisions in Stagecoach would have to pursue other means of wastewater treatment, including forming local improvement districts to install the sewer lines needed to tie into the district’s wastewater treatment facilities.

— The Steamboat Springs City Council is expected to vote tonight on a proposal to raise building permit and plan check fees by 58 percent to help offset declining revenues collected by the building department. A similar measure is being considered by the Routt County Board of Commissioners.

Routt County Building Dep­artment Official Carl Dun­ham said Monday that he already has reduced his staff from 13.7 full-time equivalent employees to nine. But slipping revenues suggest more cuts could be necessary if the construction industry doesn’t turn around.

The building department is feeling the same fiscal squeeze that building contractors are going through.

“By raising fees, we can extend services. When things turn around, our hope is to be able to return to the lower fee structure,” Dunham said.

The department’s fund balance has declined by about $800,000 this year, he said.

“We started 2009 with $2.33 million in our operating fund,” Dunham wrote in a memo to the City Council. “With projected revenue of $600,000 in 2009, our fund will diminish to $1.53 million at the end of the year. We are budgeting that our level of construction will be consistent from 2009 to 2010.”

If construction activity rem­ains flat next year, and the fee increases are approved, the building department expects to receive $900,000 in revenues against a personnel and operations budget of $1.265 million. The deficit would eat further into the fund balance.

The Building Department will carry a fund balance of about $1 million into the new year, but of the total, $800,000 represents money collected in advance for existing construction projects for which inspections still must be conducted, County Manager Tom Sullivan said.

“It’s unearned revenues,” County Commission Chair­man Doug Monger said. “The building department collects its fees up front, and we have a liability of service out there. We’re basically a $1 million department, and although we’ve reduced our staff, we’re still looking at a deficit.”

The fee increase would translate into about $1,335 on a modest 2,000-square-foot single family home with a construction permit valuation (not the same as the cost to build) of $316,600.

The increase translates into about four-tenths of 1 percent of the permit value assigned to the house.

For a hypothetical 10,000-

square-foot office building in the city with a valuation of $1.56 million, the fees for permits and plan checks would increase from about $7,700 to $12,500, an increase of 64 percent.

When all construction fees in the city are taken into consideration, including planning fees, city use and excise taxes and county use tax, the building permit increases are 7 percent of the total and residential increases are 8.4 percent.

The county building department, which serves the city and county, as well as the smaller communities of Oak Creek and Yampa, is unlike any other department at the county. It does not receive any of its budget from city and county general funds. Instead, it is an enterprise fund, operating from year to year on the fees it collects from contractors and private individuals undertaking their own construction projects.

Construction valuation and fees have slipped dramatically this year. Valuation is on track to reach $80 million compared to the record $155 million of 2000.

At the beginning of the year and mindful of the recession, Dunham calculated the average of the four worst revenue years of this decade and used that number to project 2009 revenues of $1.4 million. But after the first 10 months of the year, fees collected are on track to hit less than half of that number — perhaps $550,000 or $600,000.

Preparing for a recovery

Dunham works with an oversight committee comprising representatives from city and county government. He also consulted with a construction trade group, which he said, acknowledged the need to increase fees in order to preserve services.

The commissioners cautioned that even the rate increase does not indefinitely sustain the building department at its current staffing levels without a rebound in the construction industry. And when the industry turns around, they want to be in a position to ensure the building department can respond.

“The worst thing that could happen for contractors when things start to get better would be getting held up by building department inspections,” Monger said.

The fact that building permit and plan check fees are paid in advance would help the department rehire, but Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush expects the timing of rehires to be tricky.

“At first electrical inspection (for example) those subs are going to be tightly scheduled,” Mitsch Bush said. “If one inspection stalls, it gets backed up.”

Dunham said the next round of layoffs would be painful because the next employees to go would each represent 27 years of experience and training.

“We’re a construction company, one with a specialized skill set,” Dunham said. “It’s tough. We’ve had a good run.”

Comments

Scott Wedel 4 years, 5 months ago

This is yet another reason why ordinary citizens hate government organizations.

The answer is always increased revenues whether it be taxes or fees.

Did any construction related business person in the entire US base this year's budget on the average of the 4 worst years of the last 10? What other 4 years of the past 10 had serious recessions? So that formula was primarily to justify an absurdly optimistic budget.

So the "solution of the moment" is to raise fees for an enterprise dept that is collecting half as much money as it is spending? Only the most vile of monopolies could consider raising their prices by 58% during a industry slowdown.

So even with this 58% fee increase they are still planning to have operating expenses a third more than income? That is supposed to be considered budgeting? So the current budget plan is for this enterprise to go bankrupt in 2014 instead of 2012?

And that is, unfortunately, how government officials think and plan when running an enterprise.

Lastly, whenever things recover and the building again is running a surplus, will they reduce fees back to 2008 levels? Of course not, then the reserves will be transferred to some other government purpose.

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insbsdeep 4 years, 5 months ago

This is great, all we need is to make it more expensive to build, remodel, or maintain your property.

Don't forget the new Plan Check Fee the city added which adds $1,400 to any new house our medium sized remodel.

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1999 4 years, 5 months ago

BRILLIANT IDEA!!!!

permitting is down so lets make it MORE expensive to get a permit!!!!

SIMPLY BRILLIANT!!!!!

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Brian Kotowski 4 years, 5 months ago

Wedel beat me to it. Stunningly asinine and typical.

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Karen_Dixon 4 years, 5 months ago

To stimulate the economy, you should be WAIVING fees, not raising them. Somebody will take advantage of that and start building. Then somebody else will. And so on.

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ElevenFootPole 4 years, 5 months ago

Great idea!! Put the nail in the coffin! The entire building department will soon be out of work just like the rest of the construction industry.

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Karen_Dixon 4 years, 5 months ago

Carl & Commissioners: I understand that you don't want to lose good people. No one does. But I don't know any construction related company (other than TIC perhaps) that isn't operating on a skeleton staff. Good people are out of work all over this county. And when the rebound happens, I doubt you will have trouble finding good people to staff - there will likely be a line out the door of qualified applicants. I hate to see people lose their jobs, but if you have no work, you cannot keep your employees. It's a simple unemotional formula - though admittedly, not a simple unemotional decision. Keep your necessary first responders, monitor the plans coming into the office, monitor the Architects, and when biz starts picking up, you will have ample time to staff up before the first inspection is called for.

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ride4fun 4 years, 5 months ago

All great comments. Without a doubt further reductions should be made in operating expenses before increasing the fees.

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steamboatsprings 4 years, 5 months ago

Council and County Commissioners, please bring them out of this fantasy. Karen said it well above that everyone else has to and there is absolutely no justification for raising fees 58% in any economy much less a bad one.

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aichempty 4 years, 5 months ago

I hate to say this, but all of you above are 100% wrong. The value added by plan checking and inspections is not easy for a layman to see, but it's the reason why we don't have more fires and roof collapses in Routt County.

You can be absolutely sure that any home you purchase in Routt County that's been built in at least the last 20 years -- at least as long as Carl Dunham has been checking the plans, and later, after he took over the whole department, is a safe dwelling and a good value.

The RCBD watches over work done by contractors and owner-builders with equal professionalism. Builders and even engineers who design foundations and structures need a backup to make sure that things are done right.

My own home in North Routt sat through several winters with nobody around to check the snow on the roof or anything else. I have NEVER removed snow from the roof, and there's no need, because Carl's plan review and several issues he caught before construction ever started resulted in a design that has proven it can stand up to the worst Mother Nature can offer.

The inspectors are highly experienced professionals with in-depth knowledge of local conditions. You can't hire that off the street when the economy improves. The depth of knowledge and experience with local conditions is not something you can hire on a moment's notice, and even local builders with years of experience are usually not qualified to step right in and do the job. When a person sees hundreds of construction jobs at all phases of completion, they learn what to look for and how to correct problems. You WANT the local inspectors on your side when you buy a home, and the extra cost you pay is going to be worth it in the long run.

There are lots of places in this country where you can bribe a building inspector or get away with building a sub-standard structure, and nobody can tell the difference until there's a big storm or the place starts to fall down in 5 or 10 years.

Carl and his staff are the best you can hire. They have made cuts where they can, but cutting into the core of the buiding inspection staff or plan reviewers would be the single biggest mistake anyone in this county could make. Get rid of anybody else first. Pay them out of the general treasury if necessary.

When the recovery comes, the cost of having to wait for plan reviews and building inspections will far outweigh the increased cost of fees now. Time is money, and waiting for approval to proceed with a project also includes the expense of carrying charges on building loans, the risk of losing your labor force if you don't pay them to stand around doing nothing, etc. Fees will also be reduced, as Carl noted, when business picks up.

The RCBD provides a direct benefit to property owners every time it snows, the wind blows, or they turn on the heat. The fact that people don't see problems when those things happens is proof.

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greenwash 4 years, 5 months ago

Let them all go.Hire a whole new staff.Nows the best time to upgrade employees.Career Govt workers get lazy.Find some new blood.they will be more productive and they will work harder.

Same story in Parks Dept.Get rid of the high dollar disrespectful managers.

City Council, nows the time.Gain back control of our Govt workers.We dont work for them ,They work for us.

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Scott Wedel 4 years, 5 months ago

As expert as they may be, there is not currently the work load now or in the immediate future to justify the current staffing of the building dept.

Also, if they have an average experience of 27 years then by the time things get busy again then they will be losing staff to retirement. The issue of hiring and training replacements is just being postponed.

If the building dept is supposed to be part of a socialist full employment plan then the current budget is justified. Meanwhile, cash reserves are headed out the door at a rapid rate.

If it is supposed to be an enterprise in the somewhat capitalist USA then they need to reduce staff to match revenues.

If you as a builder are worried that an appropriately staffed building dept won't catch every construction mistake then do the free market capitalist thing and hire someone with that knowledge for your construction jobs.

Maybe instead of promising to lower fees in the future, they should not raise fees at all now and instead openly overcharge now and promise to return the money when they have excess cash again. Is as fair and makes as much sense as their current plan.

SB City considered pulling out of the regional building dept before. Makes even less sense to stay in now. If private building inspection companies were confident they could make money charging the old fee schedule then it'd be easy to undercut a 58% rate hike. And then when things are busy again then the profit can be retained by the City instead of the County which was a big part of the issue the first time.

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Fred Duckels 4 years, 5 months ago

We don't need to do everything in house with all the perks of a government employee, let people go and farm work out. Then we will not be responsible for half of trhe community. Once we establish the fact that we are a serious customer I think that getting the job done for a reasonable price will come. It is ironic that this ongoing problem did not surface until after the election when the electorate could weigh in. If we are just discovering this problem, then heads should roll. This solution is presented as investing for the future, sounds familiar to our national scenario where stimulus money is used to keep government and union workers from sharing in the grief. The private workforce is paid less and has very little security, I don't believe this dog will hunt.

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freerider 4 years, 5 months ago

here it comes folks ....hyper -inflation brought to you by your local government that has absolutely no clue on how to manage money ....they only know how to take ,take, take.... 2nd biggest economic depression in history and they jack prices when they should be figuring out how to cut back like the rest of us.....hey are you smarter than a 5th grader .??? thanks a lot for tipping the dominoe , the building dept. gets the worst people of the day award

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blue_spruce 4 years, 5 months ago

i have to agree with fred "If we are just discovering this problem, then heads should roll." no kidding! who the heck is steering the ship anyhow?

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greenwash 4 years, 5 months ago

Dunham in Build dept.

Wilson in Parks dept.

Both terribly overpaid.

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Scott Hoffner 4 years, 5 months ago

aichempty; Why is there a plan check fee in the first place. You are required to have engineered drawings in the first place ... then we are asked to pay for a government official to CHECK the engineer.

In hard economic times, businesses are forced by the market to cut back on expenses. Why doesn't the government work the same way? Why, of course, they are government, they don't have to.

Remember people, when government increases a fee/tax, it never is reversed.

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housepoor 4 years, 5 months ago

lets bring in gambling!!!! where else can you ski all day and play craps all night?

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Harvey Lyon 4 years, 5 months ago

Well....I'm sorry to say....there are many who "pick up the hammer" and start building....leading to serious problems down the line for the customer. Governments don't start a program unless folks complain or "demand services"...be it recreation or building inspection. A couple of months ago, when a guy died, who did everyone blame for lack of a CO2 detector?

Our building department is among the best in being reasonable and cost conscience. I would suspect here that our governmental leaders stripped off "the profits" from the building department during high volume times for their own political reasons leaving less than required as "reserves" for lean times.

There are well studied and published "suggestions for fees" in all building codes...my guess is Steamboat remains below the suggested amount.

A building inspector is a professional, educated but also experienced over time. Be careful in what you say as it could be your house or the bulding you're in when the deck collapses or the drywall cracks or just the damn circuit breaker keeps tripping when you want to toast the bread and microwave the coffee at the same time.

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JLM 4 years, 5 months ago

The design and construction of simple residential and commercial buildings is a pretty cut and dried business of the most basic architectural and structural engineering which is routinely codified in all kinds of design tables and building codes. It ain't rocket science.

The practices are well known by competent architects, civil engineers, contractors and framers. The implications of such things as "snow load" simply require a greater design "dead load" to accomodate the load of the snow which simply means you are working from a different table.

The tables are no more complicated than identifying the unsupported length, the spacing between members and size of the member to ensure compliance. A 2' x 10' joist of a given length requires a definitive joist to joist spacing to support a given dead and live load which is determined by the local building code.

In snow country, you slope your roofing elements more steeply to shed snow.

Why anybody thinks that a governmental entity which is funded by an enterprise methodology does not have to respond to the marketplace in a linear manner is lost on me. The building contractors have to lay off good people with lots of years of experience when they have no work and the inspection department should be no different. It's called reality!

The fact that this management issue creates a necessity to ebb and flow with the economy is simply a reflection of the recession in which we are currently mired. Welcome to the real world, fellas.

The idea that the SBS CC would actually consider raising any fees in this economy, let alone a 58% fee increase is just plain nuts.

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mavis 4 years, 5 months ago

How this idea is even on the table for discussion is BEYOND me. If the planning department is down 80% in permits- they should be down in employees by 80%. SEVERAL well established and well known construction companies from builders to excavators to masons and so on have all had to cut thier payroll. Did they want to? NO but in order to survive in the real world of economics right now they have had too.

Is this to say the BUILDING department is more of a priority then lets say the fire department, police department or public works? Are we going to cut back on plowing services to ensure we can maintain a well staffed building department therefore putting citizens at more risks for accidents on poorly maintained roads?
Maybe the building department should work on diversifying the staff. Maybe they should not be so "specialized" but learn how to efficiently and effictively do another skill inorder to cut back on employees.

Honestly this idea disgusts me and makes me very frustrated with the people allowing this thinking to happen. We are trying to become first time home builders/buyers within the near future-- if Steamboat continues to allow decisions like this to happen they deserve to go broke.
And is the building department REALLY that top notch that they need to be expemt from cuts??? Look into it Pilot and see if they really have such great records please do some research and let us know.

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mavis 4 years, 5 months ago

stirrin-- DO you know for fact that the building department follows up on EVERY complaint about a contractor or electrician??? I encourage you to actually ask people and you might find there are some repeat offenders on the building departments list of people that just didn't quite always do the job right-- so don't you think a little re-structuring when the economy might IMPROVE the building department?

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1999 4 years, 5 months ago

I take care of a house that was built 5 years ago.

the electric system is a downright dangerous nightmare.

it should NEVER have been signed off on. there are VISABLE wrongs (wrong size breaker to wrong sized wire for the wrong load)

i recently removed some wiring from the wall (after tearing up the drywall) that had a four foot section that had burned thru the wire cover and was arching.

the breakers are constantly tripping.

when i called the building dept to find out who the inspector was..and why this house passed inspection......i was given the run around.

please....don't tell me we have the best inspectors.

this house should NEVER have passed inspection.

the entire electric system (in a 7k square foot house) needs to be replaced.

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sledneck 4 years, 5 months ago

...and when you ask him (taxman), how much should we give, oooh they only answer MORE, MORE, MORE... CCR

Scott W. has this EXACTLY right.

So much for the lipservice about affordable housing.

More government ANYTHING is ALWAYS the wrong answer.

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aichempty 4 years, 5 months ago

1999,

You are absolutely right that something went terribly wrong. It could have been the fault of an inspector, however, I'd tend to believe that somone stole the copper wire out of the place and it was replaced by someone who didn't know what they were doing. No licensed electrician would have put in the stuff you have seen, because he'd be liable for any resulting damages and could lose his license. When a home is built for resale to the public, it must be wired by a state-licensed electrician. Go down and find out who pulled the permit, and talk to them about the conditions.

JLM,

You're busted. Sloping the roof may shed snow, but it does not let you build a lighter structure. As the pitch of the roof increases from flat to 45 degrees, the length of the rafters increases as the hypotenuse of the triangle formed by the roof line, the difference in height of the supporting walls at each end, and the distance between them. For example, 12 feet is about the smallest span between the center and exterior load bearing walls you can use in a home. A "flat" roof (1 foot rise for 12 ffoot span) requires rafters only 12.04 feet long. A 45 degree pitch (12 foot rise for 12 foot span) requires rafters 17 feet long. So, now your 2x10 that worked at 12 feet may not work at 17 feet. It may have to be a 2x12, or they may have to be 12 inches or 8 inches apart, or you may have to use something other than regular lumber, like trusses constructed to bear the load.

I built a place that was "engineered" for the local snow load and the trusses were brought in on a truck from out of state. When Carl checked the plans, he discovered that the plywood supplied with the roof components was not strong enough to meet the snow load. At that point, I checked the trusses against the specifications and discovered that they had also sent the wrong trusses for a 24 inch spacing. They were made of 2x4 lumber instead of 2x6. As a result, the supplier had to send extra trusses to reduce the spacing to 16 inches to meet the snow load specs. If these conditions had not been discovered until the rough inspection, I'd have had to tear the whole roof off and rebuild it. This is a verifiable case where the RCBD ended up saving the builder thousands in labor and materials despite the fact that the blueprints and truss specifications had been approved and stamped by a Colorado registered structural engineer. Oh, and by the way, it also saved the person living in the house from having a roof collapse on them, and who knows how much in resulting legal costs, etc.

So, you may think it's simple. Actual experience proves otherwise, and it's a mistake to think that the added value of RCBD plan review and inspections is not worth it.

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bigfatdog 4 years, 5 months ago

Wing Nuts!! this is exactly what happens in govnmt. Not one of them (city council, commissioners, & departments) have run a for profit business in difficult times. They all are out of touch. Tell everyone you know to write to the council and commissioners to deny this increase. The building department is so inefficient, it would have been broke long ago if it was a private.

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aichempty 4 years, 5 months ago

If we could bring in novice inspectors who could be bribed to pass stuff that is not up to code, we could save a lot building houses. The thing about that is that we'd then have to declare bankruptcy or go out of business and move away before the houses had time to fall down.

A lot of builders around here would love to see standards lowered. The result is the kind of stuff that happened in Florida after a hurricane hit, and people found out that the houses were basically built with 2x4 lumber with drywall on the inside and cheap masonite siding on the outside (basically high-grade cardboard) with insulation in-between, and the rain and wind went right through the walls.

The RCBD fees are CHEAP compared to other places, and well worth the cost. The only thing that surprises me is that the costs have been held down to the current levels for so long.

The only thing wrong here is the method whereby the city and county fund the RCBD. That's what needs to be changed.

And by the way, the cost of permits is linked to the estimated building cost and the sales tax rate. The payment of the permit fee up front means that tax is collected before construction. The end cost is the same either way.

The plan review fees are not out of line with other costs. It's the public that gets the benefit in the end, and judging from some of the responses above, the public ought to be grateful that they have somebody who knows the ropes looking out for them when builders and developers are involved.

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sledneck 4 years, 5 months ago

If government can't get by on what they take now then to hell with them. On second thought, to hell with them either way.

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Solo 4 years, 4 months ago

FYI- In May of 2007, the Routt County Commissioners moved $1.4 million dollars from the Building Department enterprise fund into the County general fund. These were "excess" funds accumulated during the "good" times. It now seems that this transfer was premature and those funds should be moved back to the Building Department. Of course this will not happen. It should be obvious that reserves in enterprise funds should stay as reserves in order to face the down times like we are currently experiencing.

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Scott Wedel 4 years, 4 months ago

Solo, Which is what triggered the City looking to pull out of the building dept. Though, reserves of $2.3M is a pretty substantial number that would seem to be sufficient until building dept says they cannot cut expenses below $1.26M.

While the building dept has a monopoly for the county, the City of SS could pull out. It would be a dereliction of duty if city officials were not contacting private inspection companies and asking if, at these reduced level of construction, whether they could provide inspection services for less than the new fee schedule.

Look at the situation from the City's point of view. They are dependent upon an outside entity (the Routt County Building Dept) to provide essential public services, that entity just raised fees by 58%, is still running a huge deficit and reasonable economic projections show that it will run out of reserves in a few years, and claims they cannot cut their expenses any lower without cutting essential expertise.

That is a mess that the City of SS should want to no longer rely upon for essential city services without seeing if there are financially stable private inspection companies able to provide services for substantially less than the County's building dept.

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Solo 4 years, 4 months ago

Once upon a nightmare, the City had its own building department. Not only was there an unnecessary duplication of manpower, there was an inconsistent interpretation of the building code. There is no logical reason that the City and County can not manage this department together if it is actually treated as an enterprise fund. It is highly doubtful that building trades would support the concept of two building departments.

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Scott Wedel 4 years, 4 months ago

The free market depends upon duplication of services. Unless there is a monopoly then there is competition. Now we have a monopoly using it's monopoly power to increase fees when the overall industry is down over 40% and still projecting running deficits that will probably consume it's reserve fund prior to a recovery.

Hayden has it's own building dept. There are all sorts of city and county building depts along the Front Range. There they also have smaller counties so the building trades people work with many building depts and it is not that big of a deal. I've found that the trades generally know the codes quite well and after an inspection will often say they this or that shouldn't have passed.

It would not be ideal if the City started it's own building dept. Neither should the City tolerate the current financial morass in the building dept. The County simply cannot take money out when things are busy and then increase fees 58% when things are slow while making the argument they would lose essential expertise if any further budget cuts are made. If that is to be believed then the City needs to see if there are better alternatives.

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aichempty 4 years, 4 months ago

Scott,

Your argument holds exactly the same merit as looking for the doctor who will perform your coronary bypass operation for the lowest price.

For one thing, honesty is in desperately short supply around here. Try buying that "skill" on the street in Steamboat.

You'd be better off firing cops or cutting their pay.

Building inspection and plan review are about PUBLIC SAFETY. Remember the kid who (allegedly) suffocated for lack of a smoke detector. If that apartment had been inspected by RCBD there would have been at least one smoke detector wired in to the home's electrical system.

Why do people shun permits and inspections? To save money. What does that do? It puts lives in danger.

Some of the code requirements are silly, and as a result I have three smoke detectors within 25 feet of each other in a second floor loft, bedroom and stairway area. On the other hand, building materials are inherently more hazardous than in the past (resins in chip board for sheathing and floor underlayment versus plywood or solid tongue and groove sheathing and flooring). A 2x10 rafter is much harder to set on fire than a truss made out of 2x4s. FIre blocking in walls prevents drafts from feeding fires, and drywall and fire resistive doors prevents fires from spreading into the house from the garage.

You may not know anyone whose house burned down, but I do. I also know someone whose house blew up from a natural gas leak.

If you really want to trust someone who doesn't have an in-depth knowledge of local codes and conditions to safeguard you and your family (such as, uh, not putting the propane regulator in a place where ice can fall on it -- didn't this happen in Phippsburg or Oak Creek and cause a death in the last year or so?) then I wish you luck, because you're taking a gamble if you hire someone from out of town, or someone who can be paid off to approve a sub-standard structure or appliance installation.

Like it or not, we have a huge problem around here with drug and alcohol abuse. A guy finishing a job at the end of the day may not be as "sharp" as he should be, and it doesn't take much of an error to result in a serious defect that may not be visible until tragedy occurs. Nick a wire, or disturb a gas fitting, and some day you may have a fire as a result. That's the day when everything else being right makes the difference.

We keep police officers and fire fighters on the job because of what they are able to do when the need arises. It's the same for building inspection. I'd much rather live in a town without a fire department than in a house that was inspected by somebody who was bribed to let it pass.

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Scott Wedel 4 years, 4 months ago

Aic, Your analogy confuses the builder (surgeon) with the building dept (state accrediting medical board). You appear to be arguing that it doesn't whom is chosen to build (or you could just as well do it yourself) as long as there is a good inspections dept.

I don't what sort of person you hire to do construction work, but based upon your comments it appears that you need to hire a competent general contractor that has good trusted subs.

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aichempty 4 years, 4 months ago

Scott,

Your comments show just how ignorant you are about the way things are done around here. I don't mean to be insulting, but "ignorance" is the only term that applies.

How does a person trying to get an "affordable" home constructed go about hiring a "competent general contractor" that has good "trusted subs." The reality is that people in the market for a place to live are going to take the lowest bidder, and the builders who are in high demand are building high-end homes.

In fact, you have nailed my argument exactly. It doesn't matter WHO you hire to build as long as the RCBD is doing the plan review and inspections.

As a matter of fact, I have built homes both for spec and for my own occupancy in Routt County, and have found that a good working relationship with the plans examiners and inspectors is an extremely valuable part of the process. Why? In the first place, you know you've got to build to the code and the local standards (and there are some standards which only apply around here), so following the guidelines and listening to the inspectors makes it all go much easier. You can also go in and speak to the inspectors about specific questions and get an answer so that you do it right the first time.

So, for a person with any kind of carpentry skills and an understanding of the basic codes, you can build it yourself. I've done it. My first spec house was the first house I ever built. It was the first house I ever worked on. I had to hire the electrical, mechanical and plumbing work out because of licensing requirements when building a home for someone else to occupy, but I did a full working-man share of the labor and supervised the subs (including framing carpenters) who worked for me.

When I built my own home, I did at least half of the work myself. I did all of the foundation construction, wiring, plumbing and mechanical installation myself.

When the RCBD inspects your work and approves it, it is safe and well done, or you have to tear out what's wrong and fix it. The hardest part for most people around here seems to be a willingness to listen to the plans examiners and inspectors, and follow their direction. A lot of construction people resent what they see as nit-picking, but the RCBD is protecting the people who will live in the place in the future, and they are also protecting the City and County from legal liability due to sub-standard construction. When the RCBD says it's okay, the City and County are standing behind them and will pay the price if there's legal action later. Hiring a private inspector to approve work done under a Routt County building permit leaves the government holding the bag when Joe Blow leaves town in six months.

(cont)

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aichempty 4 years, 4 months ago

So, it's clear you are speaking from an abstract point of view based on peripheral knowledge of the building business. I am speaking from the standpoint of someone who started with a blank sheet of paper and a bare piece of ground and hands-on built houses while managing the finances, the subs, the permits and all the rest. I was putting my own finances and income at risk (posting collateral to secure the building loans) and taking on the responsibility for everything from plans to the final coat of paint.

Along the way, I saw what kind of work some local subs do, and you'd be surprised how much doing the cheapest job and charging the most money for it governs the local licensed electricians and plumbers. If you haven't been double billed by an excavator, you haven't dealt with one of them very much. (Don't read a blast at Fred Duckels from this. I tried to hire him and he was too busy to work on my project.)

The RCBD staff is the most competent advocate a home buyer can have in this county. They live here, and they understand their responsiblity to protect their neighbors. They're also protecting their own livelihood and reputations.

Back to your original analogy, the RCBD is the final "supervisor" who makes sure the job was done right. They are a partner in the process, not an adversary. The fact that many local folks in the building business consider them to be adversaries is a reflection of who really does the job right, and who tries to get away with doing the minimum job to look complete for the lowest price.

Do they make errors. Sure. They err on the side of safety and quality when it happens. Their experience with problems through the years equips them to prevent future problems.

So, although I will never build another project in this county that requires a building permit, I know that anything I may buy and move into later was done right because the RCBD approved it. The cost of keeping the experienced people around pales in comparison to the cost of a few collapsed roofs or walls would inflict on the City and County.

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Karen_Dixon 4 years, 4 months ago

Whether or not we recognize the value & necessity of the building department is an irrelevant argument to the discussion of a fee increase. Business is down. You simply cannot raise your fees for that reason. If I said to the next 5 clients that walk in my door, "I must charge you $158/hour rather than $100/hour because my business is down, but I'll drop it back down for every client thereafter", what do you think those clients would do? To Scotts point about monopolies, if I were the only architect in town, they might have no choice but to pay it if they needed the service. That isn't the case. Nor is it the case with the counties building department. The city can & should shop.

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Scott Wedel 4 years, 4 months ago

And since the building dept has such great expertise with average experience of 27 years then what is the plan when these people start retiring? There certainly are not enough young inspectors being trained to replaced the experienced inspectors. And if construction activity remains slow for a few years then there will continue to be no budget to hire and train replacements and the expertise will be even closer to retirement.

Simply put, having average experience of 27 years means the dept has gotten old and they also need to figure out how they are going to pass the expertise along.

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aichempty 4 years, 4 months ago

;Scott,

I have worked with several of the inspectors over the years, and younger people do come into the department and learn the ropes. Carl was one of them. He moved up into his current position when the previous building official left the post.

The inspector who approved my last "rough" several years ago is one of those younger people who came in with good qualifications and now has years of experience. He would no doubt be one to mentor a replacement for the next inspector to retire.

Your logic of cutting services by reducing staff would mean -- guess what -- that the person with the most longevity would be retained. So, you lay off the younger ones and keep the geezers who are closest to retirement age (I myself am on the verge of geezing, so it's okay for me to say that).

Average age and experience can be deceptive. One data point in a small population can skew the numbers, so don't assume that everybody has been there for 27 years. For example, 3 times 27 is 81, so the numbers going into that average could be 40, 25 and 16. 2 times 27 is 54, so that could be 35 and 19.

Also, you've got to realize that the inspectors who work on the commercial jobs are the same ones who inspect homes, To think that you can hire someone off the street who has been building houses to come in and inspect a commercial job is wishful thinking. The codes for commercial buildings are much different than for homes (stairs, for example) and it takes a breadth of knowledge and experience to do the job properly. If an inspector is not "sure" about something, they go back to town and research it. Do you want to create a situation where ALL building projects are slowed down because a novice inspector has to go hit the books or confer with the boss due to a lack of experience?

It's also a fact that people already living here for a number of years don't have the challenge of finding affordable housing so they can stay on the job. Should we create a situation where the salaries have to be raised to pay someone enough to live here when it's time to hire replacements?

The real issue here is that the City and County have mismanaged the building department finances. They've already cut the staff from 13 to 9.

It's unfortunate that the 158% number is the only thing that people see. In truth, fees should have been raised in the past, but business was so good that the surplusses would have been confiscated by the County for other purposes (as was done with $1.4 million already).

You can hire a new cop or fire fighter or clerk right off the street. Sorry, but it's true. 90 days of training won't cut it for a building inspector in these parts. If you want to wait until a few roofs collapse in SB700 affordable housing projects to figure it out, good luck with that.

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Scott Wedel 4 years, 4 months ago

Aic, My last point is simply as stated - What is the plan to transfer knowledge from the current staff with average experience of 27 years to younger employees?

At current staffing they are running a significant deficit. Construction activity would have to increase by at least 30% for them to even break even with the proposed fee hike. Since they are so quickly consuming their reserve funds, one can presume that when things improve that they will hold off on hiring until they are confident that they are running a surplus.

So it should be expected that, at best, there will only be new hires to replace people that have retired. So only after the knowledge is lost will there be a replacement to learn it. (If the retiree's expertise is known by others then staff could be reduced today without losing expertise).

I don't doubt that they have expertise. I don't know their ages or their personal plans.

It just seems to me that they have an older staff and if the plan is to run deficits to keep them then I don't see how they will be in a position to hire younger workers to learn from current staff until members of the current staff have retired. Thus, keeping current staffing levels makes it harder to transfer expertise to future new staff.

If instead they cut staff (as horrible as that is) to be closer to revenues then when things are modestly better they could hire new staff to learn and thus transfer knowledge. (BTW, I do not think the criteria for whom to retain should be based upon whomever is the most senior. It makes more sense to retain based upon breadth of knowledge than seniority).

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JLM 4 years, 4 months ago

Why is the prospect of bringing one's staffing into line with the flow of the actual business such an alien concept?

That is what every enterprise in America does as a routine part of managing their enterprise.

If a government is to be an "enterprise" and funded by its own revenue, it is going to have to anticipate the ebbs and flows of the markets it serves. That is Business 101.

A plan of succession for folks who have 27 years experience is just as necessary given normal retirement turnover as it is in the current example. Businesses and governments have to plan for normal turnover.

The complexity of building and plan inspection is way overstated. The good news is that the construction industry is contracting and there are tons of qualified folks looking for work. I suspect you could rebuild that entire department from the ground up with eager young degreed engineers of flawless integrity if one had the gumption to do it.

Cutting staff is not "horrible", it is realistic.

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kathy foos 4 years, 4 months ago

The people that work for us as a community at the planning and building department do a great job and anyone who has worked with them on a project knows just how much they do and how qualified they are. How dare people take a discussion on fee rate hikes and turn it into a free for all on if they need to hire younger people .Thats so gross,back to the topic anyone?Scot maybe you are to old to use that keyboard anymore,that is the same stupid mentality .Let the personel department do their job and by the way in such a small office 4 positions trimmed is quite a change.What will happen when it gets busy next spring ,for all of that steamboat building and their arent enough workers to keep up with the demand?Also it is a matter of public safety.Good job you people that work at the department and dont think that those of us who have pulled permits from you dont appreciate all that you do.Also you that would cut them off,wonder how the insurance industry would like your big ideas?Maybe people would have to make sure that the house that they are purchasing wasnt constructed in the years when they cut down the building department.

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JLM 4 years, 4 months ago

Making the staffing proportional to the workload does not in any way diminish the level of scrutiny or care per plan submitted.

It simply means that the ratio of workers to volume of work is maintained as a constant.

Lots of really nice guys lose their jobs. The issue is simply one of workload and finances.

When the average age of your staff indicates that the knowledge base of the enterprise is going to evaporate with normal turnover and retirement, it is logical to hire some younger people.

Why don't we just try rational thought and simple business logic for a change? Or is government immune from such basic concepts?

This is what every business owner in SBS does every day. Get over it and get with it.

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kathy foos 4 years, 4 months ago

I wonder about your reasoning,if you get all young people in are they going to work for cheaper?I doubt it they need degrees for the job and they need to be paid for somehow.It is like discrimination and that is only adding to a problem.Dont forget that the whole county contributes to this department,not just the steamboat groups,even though Im sure that steamboat uses them the most.It is not a business,but a service,public service.Dont blame them that the economy is bad and not many are building as much at this time.That is like saying our economy is done for up here in routt county and anyone that has been around for a while knows that is just not true.

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aichempty 4 years, 4 months ago

JLM and Scott,

Treating the RCBD as a "business" is the wrong approach. Building inspection is an inherently governmental responsibiltiy, just like police, fire, and military defense of our country. Although the United States has frequently reduced military forces during times of relative peace, the events following 9/11/2001 illustrate the folly of cutting critical government functions just because they're not needed right this instant. Specifically, during the Clinton administration, funds for maintenance and repair of ground combat equipment were cut drastically. The greatest part of the cost of "the war" has been repairing and upgrading stuff (trucks, logistic support equipment, combat vehicles) which was sitting in storage yards, in need of repair, due to lack of funding during the previous eight years. The analogy applies directly to the issue under discussion.

JLM, you posted, "The complexity of building and plan inspection is way overstated. The good news is that the construction industry is contracting and there are tons of qualified folks looking for work. I suspect you could rebuild that entire department from the ground up with eager young degreed engineers of flawless integrity if one had the gumption to do it." Engineering schools don't teach you how to build a house, nail 2-by material into columns to support beams, etc. That's all building code material and it's journeyman-level carpentry, plumbing and electrical knowledge that's required. As an engineering school graduate, I found it fairly simple to draw plans, interpret codes and get 95% of it right when I started building homes. It's that other 5% that's not in the books that causes the problems, and it has to do with local conditions and subtleties that are subject to local interpretation. I don't know ANY business where an engineer straight out of school can be productive without several years of training, and many times, that training comes from the journeymen working on the production end of the business. Engineering is theoretical, not practical, and I don't know of any top-rated engineering school where the curriculum in civil or structural engineering includes hands-on experience with actual construction practices. There's nothing more dangerous than an engineer who has not yet learned how much he does not know.

I'll leave the discussion by stating that if business had all the answers, and could be trusted to do what's in the public interest, there would be no need for building inspection at all. The reason we have building inspection is because structures can fall down, or burn, and kill people. Just because nobody has died around here due to faulty construction practices in a long time, that doesn't mean it couldn't happen next year if we trusted architects, engineers and buiders to do it right. Your comments betray a lack of experience, and that's what kills innocent people in fires and building collapses.

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JLM 4 years, 4 months ago

@ aic ---

I think you may have unintentionally made my argument. You will note that I observed that the "...construction industry is contracting and there are tons of qualified folks looking for work...".

I see the opportunity as being one of finding folks who have BOTH construction and engineering backgrounds.

Nonetheless, you do an injustice to civil/structural engineering, construction management and construction industry grads when you suggest that they are lacking in practical construction experience. Today, a student virtually cannot get a degree without interning with a construction company.

In addition, a great number of engineering schools --- particularly in the architectural engineering curriculum --- teach the building code particulars. At the end of the day, building codes are nothing more than the codification of the "best" practices for construction.

As a civil myself, I can assure you that even in the dark ages when I received my degree, we had to be able to set a level, finish concrete, test a weld, etc. --- all practical precursor disciplines to building inspection skills.

I remember with great clarity dismissing my concrete lab classmates to the sidelines while I finished our 10' of sidewalk as I had spent the previous summer finishing concrete every day. It took less than an hour to grub the site, set the forms, lay the mesh, place the concrete and put a professional broom finish on it. I also neatly troweled the edges and joints. We got an extra 3 hours of sleep that afternoon. LOL

Again, note I recognize the necessity and advisability of seeking out folks who have BOTH construction and engineering backgrounds.

In my personal experience having built high rise office buildings of very advanced structural design, the real peril is in small buildings.

As it relates to tall buildings, a building inspector is unlikely to have the engineering background to even understand the intricacies of forming systems, reinforcing steel design principles, concrete quality control implications of admixtures/pumping/mix design while the structural engineers and contractors who routinely participate in these type of projects are completely versed in these intricacies.

The quality control of such projects is a team effort and the engineers must inspect the work to ensure compliance with the specifications. Most large contractors employ civil engineers as general superintendents on such delicate projects.

It is this pool of talent which can be tapped as the construction industry continues to contract.

The anecdotal information does not appear to support your claim in that most structures are built to such overlapping and redundant factors of safety that there is almost no record of structural failure of even minimally supervised construction. Most failures are during the actual process of construction rather than with the finished product.

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aichempty 4 years, 4 months ago

JLM,

Thanks for the extra explanation. Now I see where you're coming from. I was not a CE but had several friends who were.

The kinds of issues I am talking about are very local in nature.

Expansive soils are an issue. So is the sulphur in the soil which can attack the rebar inside foundation footers and let it rust away if proper drainage is not provided. Galvanized foundation bolts are not required everywhere, but they are here. Footer depth is unusual here, as is the lack of need for termite protection -- too cold for them.

Serving an internship with a construction company, even swinging a hammer (or using a nail gun), laying out framing and erecting trusses does not give a person the knowledge needed to inspect custom homes in Routt County. Now, I'll grant you that a CE graduate with a few years of experience building homes and going through building inspections would be a good candidate. But, is he going to stay around and work for what the building department pays its inspectors in the long term?

I'll grant you that a CE grad with a year of homebuilding experience could probably do the job in most jurisdictions around the country. On the other hand, we are unique, as are places in California where seismic codes are a much bigger deal. Local experience requires time to acquire, and cutting the RCBD staff in half now would not enable them to reconstitute in a single season and also keep up with an increased level of demand. Each remaining inspector plus a new hire without building inspection experience in a high snow-load area would equal one inspector for the first whole season. Rehiring laid-off inspectors would be the only way to do it on short notice.

Now, step back from the situation where you are building a stick-built home, and think about everything that has to be visually checked as part of the inspection. Nail and screw patterns. Metal joist hangers, hurricane ties, proper number and type of nail in each one (and there are specific types required in Routt County that are not required elsewhere, in general). Header size and width; number of vertical supports for each beam/header, nail patterns for sistered-up verticals that form the supports, nail sizes and types (galvanized or other).

It's not a matter of looking to see if the studs are spaced 16 inches and that there's a double top plate, and that the bottom plate in contact with the foundation is pressure treated or rot-resistant. You've also got to look around to see what kinds of nails are on the ground to see what the've been using -- galvanized for pressure treated wood, for example. Metal components need to have the right specs. Caulks, sealers, ductwork, etc., have to have ICBO numbers on them in some cases. It goes ON and ON. Nobody is going to walk in on day one and have the eye for detail to do the job right.

And, how many CE grads have experience with log homes? We don't have time or space to go down that road.

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aichempty 4 years, 4 months ago

(cont)

There's been one roof collapse I remember, and unfortunately, wasn't it a public building? Ooopsy . . .

So, yeah, stuff happens.

Around here, with snow loads like they are, size and spacing of fasteners and repetitive components is much more critical than in other places. You might think that placing joists and rafters on 12-inch centers would solve the problem, but then, grasshopper, try to nail them properly in a space framed by 2x8 or 2x10 boards with only 10-1/2 inches of clearance between them. Rots o' ruck. Now go in there and inspect the 80 resulting joints, plus blocking, for proper nailing in a 40-foot section of roof, flooring or decking. The ol' materials lab class at Purdue never prepared anybody to do that.

It's the small details that make the difference, and it takes skill and patience to check them without taking all day long on one job. So, it's not just knowledge and education. That's why you can't replace it with somebody right off the street, no matter where they went to school.

Frankly, as an engineer, building inspector is the LAST job I'd ever want. Looking for the missing needles in a haystack is not my idea of fun.

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JLM 4 years, 4 months ago

@ aic ---

Looking at the list of things you note I can only say that is some pretty tame stuff. 90% of it is "monkey see - monkey do". 10% of it is simply checking the field conditions v the specs. Well within the scope of a moderately talented engineer with a couple of years of construction experience.

The knowledge challenge is not very intimidating though it does take a high level of attention to detail. I suspect in the short term, an inspector develops a nose for which contractors are doing quality work and which are trying to cut corners. Which jobs are professionally managed and which ones are jake leg operations.

Commercial construction is significantly more complex and would be great preparation for this type of work.

Unfortunately, the entire country is overrun with talent just now and that has a powerful bearing on the supply of folks who could do this job.

I just don't think it is nearly as challenging as you paint it to be.

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aichempty 4 years, 4 months ago

JLM,

At the U S Navy Test Pillot School, you need 2000 flight hours to get in, plus good academic skills and professional qualifications as an officer and a pilot.

Everybody who attends the school has flown a minimum of three different types (make and model wise) of aircraft before they arrive. While there, they fly a variety of other types of aircraft with varying flight characteristics and flying qualities. The final exam is a "flying qualities evaluation" of an aircraft they have never flown before. A year of training qualifies them to evaluate an aircraft that nobody has ever flown before. So, why 2000 hours of experience and a year of training? Because airplanes are dangerous and expensive.

A building inspector who goes out to a job on a custom home is looking at something he's never seen before. However, a person with experience looking at a lot of different structures and checking the details of repetitive structural members and fasteners has developed a talent and an eye that allows them to do it quickly and accurately. It's similar to proof-reading. Spot checking won't do it. You have to check every word. The ability to conduct a systematic and thorough inspection is something that most people have to develop.

I'm sure you've taken a math or engineering exam where you were required to show your work. When the prof checks the work, every line, digit and symbol has to be carried through. It takes a pretty smart monkey to check it.

The ability to do the task accurately and quickly is what comes with on-the-job experience. Some things in this area require LOCAL experience. Hiring a person off the street to start doing inspections tomorrow is unlikely to happen, no matter how much education and experience they have. So, if it takes 6 months to train an inspector to go out on their own, that's a year in Steamboat Springs because of the short building season. You may have noticed in the past that when business picked way up, they didn't add a lot of staff overnight to make things go more quickly. Why? Because you can't find qualified people to go to work overnight and do an acceptable job of protecting the public in this area.

If you've been working in Charlotte, NC, then you can probably go to work in Atlanta, GA or Tampa, FL without a lot of additional training. I can tell you from first hand experience that stuff that would never fly in Routt County is done routinely in other parts of the country, and it's of no consequence because the conditions are different.

No, it's not rocket science. It's just something that a person cannot learn to do quickly and well overnight. When the inspector gives his approval, the City and County are standing behind him and assume liability for his errors. If someone is injured, there might even be criminal liabililty. If you were the boss, would you trust your own livelihood and freedom to someone you hired yesterday?

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JLM 4 years, 4 months ago

@ aic ---

Well, maybe, all those unemployed building inspectors can get jobs as US Navy Test Pilots? LOL

OK, it snows in SBS. We got that.

Sheesh, come on, aic, it ain't that hard, pal! Give it a rest!

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sledneck 4 years, 4 months ago

I submitted a set of plans for a detached shop/ garage this spring. They were virtually identical to a set I submitted 4 years ago which were approved and used to construct said building. This time, however they were rejected. I was told that the foundation specs had to be increased dramatically. I was also given a list of other changes that needed to be made before approval. My response? I withdrew the plans, asked for a refund of the permit fees and forgot about doing the building. Others will do the same as costs continue rising. Every dollar added to the price of construction pushes someone out of the market.

The shop I built in 2005 was built well enough to survive several of the snowiest winters in history and it did so just fine! So why increase the foundation specs and others?

The currently recognized International Residential Code book, which I have here in front of me is over 670 pages, small print and chases many rabbits. It is, in my opinion, an indecipherable embarrasment that Routt County should never have adopted.

I know this is not the exact problem under discussion but the point is, its bad enough to get killed by the building permit fees. To add more and more needless and extremely costly measures to the project adds insult to injury. The building department has the power to bring value to their department not only by what they require but also by what they DO NOT REQUIRE! Few if any buildings constructed in 2005 were inadequately built. For a building department to keep up with technology is one thing but to constantly add layer after layer of BS to the process is detrimental.

Snow loads and expansive soils have not and will not change. Electricity requires the same size wire now and in the future. Wind still blows. Etc, etc, etc. If we currently have adequate design criteria then we can stop increasing regulations, no? After all, global warming is going to kill us all in a few years anyway, right? So why build homes to last 200 years?

The added 58% permit fees would be a bargain if it came with some understanding on the part of the department that most aspects of building regulations and specs DO NOT need tightening... EVER. That, I'm affraid, is something that no government entity is capable of grasping.

The word our government needs to learn from DC to Routt is NO. As private citizens we all have to say no every day to many things we want and even things we need. Government should do no less. Don't have $$ to pay for something? Too bad! Do without!

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aichempty 4 years, 4 months ago

JLM,

Civil Engineering is not that hard compared to some engineering fields. Does that qualify a EE or an AE to come in and work in a CE's job?

How about the other way around? You wanna go design microchips for a while? Apply for the job, and see how far you get.

Specific knowledge and experience are the issues. You can't hire someone who's never done it and expect them to do it well without time on the job. Isn't that why you need 5 years experience and the EIT exam to become a PE?

Have you ever built a reinforced concrete block structure? Guys who do it for a living can place hundreds of blocks per day, quickly and accurately. Try it yourself and see how it goes until you get the knack of it. It's not that hard, but it takes a while to get good at it. That's the point. Nobody gets good at it overnight. Knowing HOW is only part of the process.

Do you read music? Can you play an instrument from sheet music? Have you ever composed original music? Musical theory is really very simple, and anyone can program a MIDI tune on a computer. Does that make everyone able to compete with The Beatles and Beethoven?

Sledneck,

I feel your pain. Without details, it's hard to say what the problem was, but it sounds like the soil investigation report was different. In some places, you can move 50 feet and have a completely different set of soil conditions. I built a place that was in a fill area along a creek bed, and there's no way that the same kind of foundation I used for my own home would have been suitable on fill. The house across the street was on native soil, and a standard spread-footer would have worked fine.

In fact, when I built my own place, I made SURE that a standard spread-footer foundation would be adequate before I bought the vacant lot. While I'm sure it was not your intention, your story is a perfect illustration of why plan review and building inspection are necessary. Every job is different, and like it or not, code changes occur. The visual aspects of my home were severely impacted by the 4-inch sphere balluster rule, but it's the standard, and both I and the building department would be liable if it was violated and some crack baby hanged himself by slipping through my ballusters.

Much of the code seems frivolous and redundant. How about 3 smoke detectors within 20 feet of each other on a second floor? Stupid, but it's the code, and we all have to deal with it.

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sledneck 4 years, 4 months ago

Thats the point. we should NOT have to deal with it. The soil was the same.I've been in foundation work 20+ years. I am FULLY versed in soils, compaction, expansion, friction, etc. I would not have made the comparison were it not apt.

What changed is the SS building dept. attitude toward my specs. I don't take it personally but it is unnecessary.

Code changes do not have to be perpetually adopted by local governments.

Local governments have a "let 'em eat cake" attitude toward builders. Municipalities have long dumped needless over-engineering on builders and they know they can get away with it because the builder/ developer will be the bad guy for the ridiculous cost of the finished product. Furthermore they can dictate to developers high dollar infrastructure and the developer has no choice. Again, he passes those costs on to consumers who, being victims of government education, blame the "evil" developer for the ridiculous costs.

It's a great scheme but it goes even further. Who ends up owning the infrastructure? The municipality; and if that infrastructure appraises high the municipality can sell more bonds or otherwise acquire more debt and beat its chest and say "look at what a big line we swing". Also, when you add material (ie concrete to a foundation) the county sees $$$ from tax on each additional yard of concrete, 2x4, etc. And all those costs add up to higher building costs which the municipality then takes a % of for its building permit fee. Then, when the job is done the tax assesor bases their property tax on that high price.

All in all it's a brilliantly insideous little racket they have going. And there is no incentive whatsoever to reduce costs.What makes it work are the lemmings who couldn't follow the $$$ if you drew them a map and are content to blame developers rather than their government.

Perhaps the most comical aspect of the entire industry is that people actually believe local governments want affordable housing. Laughable!

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JLM 4 years, 4 months ago

@ aic ---

You're wandering a bit off the gameboard. Most building inspectors are HS grads. The work is simply not that difficult as it does not even require a college degree in anything.

My point is very simple --- in the current economy they can be replaced by folks who have both degrees in engineering and practical construction experience. An upgrade in talent and education.

In any event, the department should be required to manage its costs consistent with its work flow and revenue.

The proposition that the department will suffer a fatal discontinuity and therefore cannot engage in fundamental business management practices is just so much baloney.

As Charles de Gaulle said: "The graveyards are filled with indispensable men."

My second favorite being: "How can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheese?"

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aichempty 4 years, 4 months ago

Sled,

Sounds like they wanted more cement in the mix, and maybe insulation.

I agree that the codes are getting ridiculous.

My next project, if any, will be in Sequatchie County, TN, on the Cumberland Plateau. They don't even HAVE a building department. Really. You pay for a permit and then it's up to you.

JLM,

There is no amount of education that makes up for experience. CEs who want to be building inspectors should be out swinging a hammer and being responsible for passing inspections. That's just how it is.

I think you're missing the point that people with the academic skills to become engineers are probably not going to want to do a job that a HS grad with lots of experience can do. Where's the challenge? And where's the money?

Have you worked shoulder to shoulder with carpenters, electricians and plumbers? If not, you can't understand the skills required, or the mindset of the people whose work you are inspecting.

A couple of guys staying at the place across the street came over and asked if I had a battery charger they could use. Car battery went dead. I did, and lent it to them. I went over a couple of hours later, and the battery was still stone dead. I took a closer look, and they had attached the leads to the plastic/rubber insulators covering the battery terminals. I asked them what they did for a living, and both stated they were electrical engineers.

Get the point?

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sledneck 4 years, 4 months ago

Aich, When I lived back east there were counties that not only didnt have a building dept but they took no fees. The only inspection was the main power and that was by the power company. Sure don't look like that around here.

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JLM 4 years, 4 months ago

@ aic ---

The world we live in now is evolving so quickly, experience is of diminished valued. Currency --- current knowledge --- is of far greater importance.

We now live in a world in which NOBODY has twenty years of USEFUL experience. Some MAY have one year of experience 20 times but what we did or knew 5 years ago is almost totally irrelevant.

Five years ago, builiding inspectors came to a job site with a roll of plans and a file under their arm. Now a pool inspector comes to a job site with a laptop and is able to access the entire Building Code as well as the entire file of the job, including the plans on the lap top. Modern inspection departments outfit their inspectors with a digital camera and they take pictures of the job documenting their inspections. The pictures are loaded onto their laptop and to a central server. The inspector can type in a quick commentary.

This was an unlikely application 5 years ago and it would be a very simple matter today.

While I certainly value experience, my point is that TODAY the employment market allows a city like SBS to retain very, very well educated folks --- who also have construction experience --- because of the job market not because they lust after the position. There is a bit of recession and high unemployment out there.

I have a big fraction of a century worth of experience dealing with inspectors of every stripe. As I have said: "It ain't rocket science."

It is an employers market.

I have some passing acquaintance with the subject being a CE and having been a PE, having owned a light construction company (interior finish, rehab, tilt-up panel warehouses, apartments), having developed high rise office buildings in 3 different states, having owned and renovated thousands of apartments and hundreds of warehouses.

The anecdote you note about the electrical engineers is funny and witty. I love it. It is a bit dopey as most folks know how to jump a car or charge a battery while in their teens. It is irrelevant to the real world or this subject. But I did enjoy it.

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Jeff Kibler 4 years, 4 months ago

Electrical engineers only understand AC. Naval Gayviators are all about the AC/DC thing.

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aichempty 4 years, 4 months ago

JLM,

The annecdote is absolutely true. I swear. It perfectly illustrates the danger of confusing education with knowledge.

In remote parts of Routt County, you can't even get an aircard connection to the internet. How would the building department link back to the "central computer" in a case like that?

Like I said, things are different around here. Maybe when a few people find out the hard way (like a roof collapse) they'll feel different.

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Scott Wedel 4 years, 4 months ago

Aic, One solution to lack of internet would be USB memory cards. Also, wireless is not really always that fast so it'd be better as a general rule to have downloaded everything likely to be needed than downloading it when needed.

That is still no reason for an enterprise dept such as the building dept to run an unsustainable deficit. And I still say the reason given of retaining expertise is a trap that makes the retained expertise issue worse in the near future (because they will lose the expertise anyway when people retire and the ongoing deficit means any retiree is not going to be replaced.)

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JLM 4 years, 4 months ago

@ AIC ---

I do not suggest that the Building Inspector requires continuous access to a server. The Building Code, plan file, inspections and correspondence are all synchronized before the inspector leaves the office and when he returns. Any jobsite annotations are added to the central files when he returns to the office. When I travel on an airplane that is exactly what I do. The sync function is pretty easy stuff these days. There is no necessity for continuous access.

I did not for a second suggest that your electrical engineer anecdote was not true.

Snow load? Isn't that about the most obvious thing in the entire SBS spectrum? It snows in SBS --- got it.

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housepoor 4 years, 4 months ago

you guys act like a starting building inspector makes 100k or something?

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aichempty 4 years, 4 months ago

housepoor,

No, I doubt it. It's a hard job, it's a responsible job, and it's got to be hard to find a place to live around here on what the building department can pay. This would be another reason to try to keep the people who are already doing the job.

One of JLM's points applies, however, because jobs are scarce. I have a friend who graduated with a degree in Aerospace Engineering and could not find a job. He eventually enlisted in the Navy and learned how to operate nuclear reactors, serving on submarines. There's no doubt that his engineering degree made nuclear power training a breeze, but as an E-3 he was not making much money. Sometimes you have to do what you have to do.

Scott,

If you look at the directory on the building department page of the Routt County website, you can easily see that there is not a great deal of depth in the plans examiner and inspector positions. On any given day, because of the geographic distances involved in this county, you can have inspectors anywhere from Hahn's Peak to Phippsburg. If only one combination inspector was cut, that would leave two to cover the whole county. There are only two electrical inspectors. So, what happens when you cut this staff and then somebody gets sick, or quits, etc.?

If the Building Department was forced to cut the days when inspections can be performed because of a shortage of inspectors, a builder could easily lose more money paying laborers to stand around in a single day than the amount of the fee increase for the entire project. Good help costs $30 per hour around here, so do the math, and figure what paying two people for a day of "nothing" would cost you. I just happen to know that it's about the same as 50% of the permit fee for a 2000 square foot home.

I also have a pretty good idea that only one of the combination inspectors and one of the electrical inspectors is anywhere near retirement age. Replacing them with a new whipper-snapper who can be trained on the job when they do eventually retire is a realistic way to proceed. There are plenty of years between 50 and 65, and just because someone has 27 years of experience, that doesn't mean he can't work another ten years.

Most of the people complaining about the increase don't know how to do an economic analysis and judge the true impact of raising fees versus cutting service. They just complain because a tiny part of the cost of building is going up. If they took the time to evaluate the whole project and all the costs associated with delays, they'd see that it's much cheaper to pay the increase than to be forced to wait an extra day (which can be three days if you count the weekends) before proceeding with the job.

The RCBD is already about 1 or 2 sets of bones from having a skeleton crew. They can't absorb much more in the way of cuts without cutting services, even in today's depressed pace of construction.

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housepoor 4 years, 4 months ago

I agree thet in these economic time they would many over qualified applicants which is all good until the economy turns around and these folks leave for jobs they are more suited for.

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Scott Wedel 4 years, 4 months ago

But they are still running a $300K deficit. So what happens in a couple of years when the surplus is spent? Raise fees another 30% or cut staff?

Cutting services is a weak excuse You often had to wait a day or so when things were booming for an inspection because they were so busy. Being financially responsible would return services levels to that which was acceptable in the past.

The City's talk of withdrawing from RCBD a couple years didn't get industry support because the city was proposing to charge the same as RCBD and offer the same services. The main effect of the change was that the City was going to get the profit instead of the County that had taken out $1M cash from the RCBD. This time the effect of the change would be significantly lower fees for city residents and profits to the City.

The County and RCBD are fooling themselves if they think they can continue down this path of increasing fees and running large budget deficits. They are betting the future of RCBD on a major increase in construction activity that the County is not expecting in their own budget.

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housepoor 4 years, 4 months ago

With this volume I bet the city feels pretty lucky in the fact that they didn’t withdraw from the RCBD. I’m curious to hear how it is working out for the Town of Hayden?

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aichempty 4 years, 4 months ago

Scott,

Remember, the surplus generated by the RCBD was taken away by the County and used for other purposes. Give that $1.4M back and where's your deficit?

Most of the other county offices are pure cost, with no fee return at all. The RCBD is one of the few (if not the only) that was ever self-supporting. If they were funded like the rest of the county salaries, there would be no deficit. How much do the RCSO or Road and Bridge department generate in cash flow to the County?

I had to wait a couple of weeks or for a plan review once upon a time, and then had to incorporate changes, and then had to wait for another review. The interest on the construction loan for a month on the vacant lot was bad enough, but then it was a big rush trying to get stuff done before the snow returned. Arriving an hour early to shovel snow out of the place before the roof was completed was no fun at all.

The cost of the fee increase is not going to make or break any project. Realistically, however, the County should fund the RCBD positions just like all other county positions and when times are slow, the furloughs, cuts in hours or reassignment of clerical help to other similar duties requiring the same administrative support skills could be done easily. The whole problem is the fencing of RCBD funding from the rest of the County pot. Times have changed. Things need to be done differently in light of current conditions, with the sure and certain knowledge that the building industry will pick up again and we'll need everybody they've got to keep up with demand.

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Scott Wedel 4 years, 4 months ago

The deficit is the difference between revenues and expenses which is still $300K or so a year.

I think the main reason the RCBD is an enterprise and not just another county dept is because it provides services for the City of SS. If revenues went straight to County general fund then the City of SS would be far more involved when the dept was generating a surplus.

The fees may not make or break a particular project. But the developers of SB 700 and Ski Time Square are facing added costs of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Do you think they will gladly accept that or will they be pushing the City to privately contract for building inspections and noting how much money can be generated for the City? And that they won't be noting that contracting to a private inspection company allows the staff to shrink when things are slow so that the City can consistently make money? Or the flexibility to bring in a top expert inspector for the more complicated Ski Time Square multistory commercial and residential mixed use buildings? Or that a private inspections company already has the modern information system infrastructure while that upgrade will cost a lot of money for RCBD?

It is not a difficult case to make that the county and RCBD mismanaged the building slowdown and that the City should not be asked to pay for that. And that the City can get a better deal in all ways by privately contracting. That may not be happening today, but that pot is on simmer and it will eventually come to a boil.

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aichempty 4 years, 4 months ago

The City has the right to adopt building codes and enforce them however it wants.

The City will also assume sole responsibility for deaths and injuries to innocent people if something goes wrong.

By the way, SB700 won't be paying extra fees. They're not going to build anything.

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CedarBeauregard 4 years, 4 months ago

"City will also assume sole responsibility for deaths and injuries to innocent people if something goes wrong."

I'm not sure about this statement. What was the final outcome when the Howellson lodge collapsed?

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housepoor 4 years, 4 months ago

I think municipal buildings are exempt from pulling a permit? like the new courthouse was not required to pull a permit?

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Scott Wedel 4 years, 4 months ago

A municipality can exempt itself from the building codes if they wish.

In the real world, the building dept is a friend of the building trades because the building dept through it's review and inspections provide independent documentation that the building was desired and built correctly. Obviously, construction errors still happen, but the process means the errors are more likely to be determined to be mistakes instead of deliberate unless there is deceit or fraud by the builders.

A building dept is very unlikely to be held responsible for construction errors unless they knowingly approved bad construction or were so inept that they couldn't tell good from bad construction. The general contractor and subs are supposed to be building according to plans and code so it would seem that the only way the building dept could be held solely responsible would be if the dept over the objections of the contractors forced them to violate code and do something unsafe.

In a place like here where the majority of the market is higher quality relatively expensive construction as compared to lowest cost possible ticky tack construction, builders here are not looking to save a few dollars by intentionally cheating on building requirements. The likely lawsuit from the buyer is enough of a reason to avoid building it wrong. Most contractors in this area have been here a while. This is not California or Florida where there are lots of contractor scams ready to vanish once they get paid.

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greenwash 4 years, 4 months ago

Mabye they should drive around and see all the illegal remodels going on.They could recoup some losses that way.

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