Steamboat City Council members to continue to push for changes at regional building department

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— Several members of the Steamboat Springs City Council on Tuesday night made it clear they'd like to see more than a software upgrade and a new leader to help improve the regional building department the city shares with Routt County.

City staff since last year has considered privatizing the department as a way to make it more efficient, but Routt County officials earlier this month indicated they would reject such a proposal.

Their rejection came just before SAFEbuilt, a private contractor from the Front Range, gave a presentation on what they could offer by taking over all or some functions of the building department.

Although they differed on the possible privatization of the department, the city and the county are moving forward with a $170,000 software upgrade for online processing of building permits.

The county's rejection of the privatization proposal left City Council President Bart Kounovsky and city staff with the task Tuesday night of briefing the council and trying to figure out how the city would move forward.

Council members offered a variety of feedback ranging from holding off on considering any changes until a new leader had stepped in at the building department to continue to pursue some partnership with SAFEbuilt.

Kounovsky kicked off his update by reaffirming that the city isn't interested in splitting from the building department, but that it still sees opportunities for improvement.

“We're not done pushing for efficiencies and making that a better department, and sitting on that oversight committee, I'm going to continue pushing for that,” Kounovsky said.

Most of the discussion centered around improving response times to development proposals.

A possible change discussed by council members included still using SAFEbuilt on at least some level to handle overflow at the building department.

Council member Tony Connell wanted to see comparables of what the cost would be for several scenarios, including the city using SAFEbuilt versus maintaining the status quo.

“I want to see some pro formas,” he said.

Council member Walter Magill also said there still were opportunities to increase the turn-around time of development proposals.

“Further analysis or some additional proposals would be something I'm in favor of,” he said.

He said SAFEbuilt could represent “a good backup of labor to turn plans around more quickly.”

The company's latest proposal to the city projects that it could realize a 15 percent cost saving on building code permitting and enforcement.

However, County Manager Tom Sullivan wrote in a letter to the city that "the economies do not justify changing from the (regional building department) which provides excellent services and allows timely concurrent review by each jurisdiction, other regulatory agencies and utilities."

Council member Scott Myller, who serves on the oversight committee with Kounovsky, said he, too, would continue to fight for changes to the department, but that there also was room for the city to improve its own review process.

“The city is a much slower and more arduous review process,” he said. “The burden is on our own staff to track through this and be a part of that new culture” at the building department.

Council member Scott Ford said the city and county should take it one step at a time, starting with the implementation of the software.

“We don't want to put too much on the plate at one time,” he said.

And council member Sonja Macys also advocated for a more patient approach.

She said before considering other proposals, the city should wait and see what efficiencies and changes a new leader of the building department would bring.

“I'm uncomfortable making a precipitous move to change operations (at the building department) prior to hiring a new official,” she said. “The community needs to give this person a chance to be a leader and make some recommendations as to what is broken and what needs to be fixed.”

City Manager Deb Hinsvark said the county is leading the effort to find a new replacement for Carl Dunham, the longtime building department official who retired March 5.

The deadline for applications is Friday, and the job has been posted nationally.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10

Comments

Scott Wedel 6 months, 1 week ago

At the very least, management at the building dept should learn how SafeBuilt is able to do what the building dept previously said is "impossible".

That is the clearest possible demonstration of the difference between someone in a government management job and the private industry.

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Jim Kelley 6 months, 1 week ago

The term "rubber stamp" comes to mind. So does the term "no skin in the game"

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Fred Duckels 6 months, 1 week ago

The pay gap between public and private is out of control and is getting wider every day. Outsourcing is a very effective, albeit, making elected officials more vulnerable. Public jobs are defended with vigor and will not be relinquished easily.

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Jim Kelley 6 months, 1 week ago

Fred, Be careful what you wish for. As an excavating contractor, I'm sure you've had to deal with an open trench waiting for an electrical inspection. (I'm not referring to YVEA utility inspections). With "SAFE"built private inspections, you will never get a next day or same day electrical inspection. In fact, most of "SAFE"built electrical inspections will be deferred to the state electrical inspector and guess what their NW Colorado schedule is? Usually W or Th every other week! No filling it in anyways and taking a picture for the inspector. Right now, if I need an electrical inspection, I am able to call Sue or Danna or the computerized phone-in system and schedule immediately. I can call Skip (electrical inspector) personally and talk with him about any given situation and make arrangements that never leave a construction project in a scheduling bind waiting for an inspection. Local, personal relationships with the inspectors and the building community will never be the same with private contractors from out of town. (From what I understand and what Tom Sullivan is skeptical about regarding "Safe"build's proposal/claim of 15% savings is that they are not accounting for the price of having employees located here. i.e. they have not included money for a local office or housing here! How can they possibly provide equal service if they aren't here. Answer: They will have to have an office here, and their proposed contract will allow them to add this cost to their bill to the city!) Why do you think that giving a private company a contract without any competition (monopoly) will provide a better service? Ever heard of Comcast? It was laughable hearing "SAFE"built representatives boast to the commissioners about their service and relationships with their customers. From what everyone (contractors!) I know who have experience with these guys, it has been anything but. (Ask about the Electrical service change over last month in Hayden that left one customer without power for four days! YVEA cannot by law re-energize a service until it is inspected and tagged. Scheduled inspection was unilaterally changed by "SAFE"built!) It seems that most problems that folks currently have with the building department have to do with the planning side of things and the long turnover to get plans approved. This is a valid concern. I do think that the new software and process they are trying should be given time to see if things can be improved here. I know you remember the Howelsen Lodge near disaster in the early nineties. That collapse certainly brought about more oversight in the planning department and perhaps it's legacy of taking a lot of time to examine prints is a result of that. Timely plan checking and due diligence must be balanced. Privatizing everything is not always the answer, even for free market contractors like ourselves!

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Fred Duckels 6 months, 1 week ago

Jim, I cannot see government competing with the private sector. First we need to determine what our present system costs, this can only be accomplished by an independent audit as government employees will fight tooth and nail to cloud the issue and keep the empire alive. Second it will be necessary to establish parameters and requirements in calling for proposals. All of your concerns can be addressed and it is time to find out the low bidder. This will not be an instant fix but neither is Obamacare. You are making assumptions on SAFE but local folks can then come forward with proposals and maybe we could even have the same employees, only for less money. The other fly in the ointment is elected officials looking out for their interests and not the publics.

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Scott Wedel 6 months, 1 week ago

If you look at what the Routt County Building dept pays to other county depts for support services and rent then you can see where a private sector competitor could save money. And they use part time employees to be inspectors which presumably would be part of SafeBuilt's plan.

Personally, I don't see why we couldn't have both and let the public decide which to use for what project. We have many title companies for instance.

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John Fielding 6 months, 1 week ago

I'm with Jim on this one. Our Routt County Building department is truly dedicated to serving this community well. i have not always agreed with some interpretations, and find the mission creep troublesome, but those are political or administrative issues and must be addressed through comissions or elections. But the unfailing commitment to serve the people of the county, the builders and homeowners and businesses, is unquestionable. If the service is to be privatized, it must be with local residents as the personnel, and preferably by locally owned firms. They could not do better than to hire Skip and John and Ted, and Danna and Sue. And if it must be taken out of governments purview, then it must be turned out to real market forces competition, with at least two options to choose from. The last thing we need is to grant a monoply to a private, for profit contractor.

I have said this many times before, we have by far the best, most honest, hardworking and ethical building department I have seen in over forty years of construction in at least two dozen different juristictions. Some have been indifferent, some incompentent, some criminally negligent and corrupt. We have a good thing going on here and it is all because these people really care.

Thank you RCBD, and thank you Carl for your many years of service. Here's wishing you every happieness in your retirement.

John Fielding

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Dan Shores 6 months, 1 week ago

I agree with Jim. I have had no problems with the building department in over 15 years of doing business here in Routt County. I have always found the building department to be friendly, timely and helpful. Having personal relationships with those at the building department is very important to me as we are able to work together to solve any problems that may arise. Try getting a permit and doing a project in a place like Los Angeles and you will really appreciate the great working relationship we have with our building department here in Routt County.

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john bailey 6 months, 1 week ago

if there is one that that SHOULD be keep local , it is our building department. end of story..~;0)

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