Steamboat, Routt County discuss Building Department’s finances | SteamboatToday.com

Steamboat, Routt County discuss Building Department’s finances

Carpenters work through the December snow at the site of a new single-family home at the east end of Spruce Street in Old Town. Jessen Construction and Brooks Design Build are collaborating on the project.

— Steamboat Springs officials asked their Routt County counterparts this week for reassurances that the Routt County Regional Building Department will remain solvent during the construction downturn.

Steamboat Springs City Council member Scott Myller said during a joint meeting on Monday that he's particularly concerned about the amount of county overhead being charged to the Building Department. He pointed out that that the estimated department revenues for 2010 are $680,000 and the overhead is a little more than $300,000.

"You couldn't have a business run that way," he said. "We're kind of concerned you guys are driving the organization into the ground prematurely."

The department is funded jointly by the county and city. It is unlike many departments in local government in that it is funded entirely by the fees it collects. The relationship the county and city have in the Building Department is in the form of an intergovernmental agreement.

City Council President Pro Tem Jon Quinn pointed out that the county assigns about 50 percent more overhead cost to each building department employee than the model used by the city.

"Is there any way to reduce these personnel costs and bring them more in line with the city's?" Quinn asked.

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County Commissioner Doug Monger reminded Quinn that the overhead figures in the 2010 budget still reflect a fully staffed Building Department. Employee levels since have been cut by more than half.

"We're not treating this department any differently than any other department we have," Monger said. "I don't want the impression out there we're dumping a bunch of costs in there that aren't defensible."

He said he would invite City Finance Director Deb Hinsvark to review overhead charges with County Finance Director Dan Strnad.

In the middle of a severe building slump, the building department has trimmed its staff from 13 to six.

Quinn asked what would happen if trends continue.

"When we look a couple years down the road at dwindling reserves, could the reserves go to zero? What happens if that happens?"

Chief Building Department Official Carl Dunham reassured Myller and Quinn that with $1.33 million in reserves, and assuming that permit revenues continue at current levels, the department should be adequately funded through 2016.

In a worst-case scenario, county officials acknowledged, they could borrow from their general fund to keep the building department afloat.

Monger told Myller and Quinn that the building department reserves consist of fees collected up front for inspections that sometimes happen two years later.

City Manager Jon Roberts praised Dunham's work in guiding the department through the construction slump. He suggested the intergovernmental agreement be revisited to include a minimum reserve threshold, which it does not contain.

— To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205 or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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