Steamboat City Council members to continue to push for changes at regional building department | SteamboatToday.com

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

— 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.

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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

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