Building issue incites passion |

Building issue incites passion

City's decision to break ties with department discussed at meeting

Brandon Gee

Steamboat Springs — Time has done little to cool the passions surrounding the city of Steamboat Springs' planned departure from the Routt County Regional Building Department. — Time has done little to cool the passions surrounding the city of Steamboat Springs' planned departure from the Routt County Regional Building Department.

— Time has done little to cool the passions surrounding the city of Steamboat Springs’ planned departure from the Routt County Regional Building Department.

A report from City Manager Alan Lanning explaining the decision to break away from the county was discussed at Tuesday’s meeting of the Steamboat Springs City Council, and the issue drew fervent commentary from the public, former City Council members and Lanning himself.

No official action was taken regarding the building department on Tuesday. The City Council and Routt County Board of Commissioners will discuss the issue at a joint meeting Jan. 15.

In July, the City Council sent a letter to the Routt County Board of Commissioners informing them that the city wanted to end its intergovernmental agreement with the Regional Building Department. The agreement requires 12 months notice of cancellation, so it could remain in place until July 2008. The city has a proposal from outside contractor SAFEbuilt to provide its building department services, but a new City Council seated in November has begun to question that decision and ask if the city might repair its relationship with the county.

As they have since July, members of Steamboat’s building community spoke in support of the county building department.

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“It has been the unanimous opinion of every builder I’ve talked to that this is not a good idea,” local builder John Fielding told City Council.

Following public comment, Lanning seized on the fact that no one spoke in opposition to the city’s planned departure from the building department except those involved in the building industry.

“There is no public outcry that I’m aware of,” Lanning said.

Lanning also dismissed suggestions that the city try to work out its problems with the county.

“We’ve been working at this for over 20 years,” Lanning said. “We’ve been highlighting problems for 10 (years). How long does it take before you finally decide it’s not going to work?”

Lanning ended his comments by questioning the intentions of local builder Mark Halvorson, who suggested during public comment that the city reconsider its decision so issues could be discussed publicly.

Lanning accused Halvorson of wanting a different result rather than a public process. Lanning said Halvorson publicly stated at a previous meeting of the building department’s users’ board that the group should try to slow down the process until after Election Day.

“If that’s not intent, I don’t know what is,” Lanning said.

The atmosphere at Tuesday’s meeting was similar to a tense special meeting of the users’ board in September. At that meeting – and in response to questions the users’ board submitted in August to clarify why the city was considering an end to its agreement with Routt County, the city provided a 30-page, strongly worded response that included correspondence from as far back as December 2002, detailing the rift between the two governments.

On Monday, Councilwoman Cari Hermacinski said she believed that response was unprofessional, but she said she had no problems with Lanning’s comments during Tuesday’s meeting.

“It’s OK to be blunt if you’re constructive,” Hermacinski said.

Hermacinski said she understands the frustration of city staff members, who have wanted to leave the county department for years, got a past City Council to agree to it and are now having that move questioned by a new City Council.

Former City Council members Susan Dellinger and Towny Anderson also spoke at Tuesday’s meeting in support of the steps the city has taken to establish its own building department. Dellinger cited a move by the county earlier this year to move $1.4 million from the building department budget into Routt County’s general fund. County officials said the move reimbursed the county for the many years the building department operated at a loss, but city officials saw the move as inappropriate because most of the building department’s fees are generated from building permits issued within city limits.

City officials said they think they can provide a higher level of service than the county. Among other complaints, the city claims:

– County building officials are unwilling to enforce the city’s Community Development Code

– Building fees do not accurately reflect city personnel costs, resulting in city taxpayers subsidizing costs related to the permit process

– Calculation errors often appear on building permits

– The actions of county building officials present legal liability concerns for the city

Steamboat construction constitutes the majority of the Routt County Regional Building Department’s work. The city’s departure would mean massive budget and personnel cuts, county officials have said. County Building Official Carl Dunham said in July that $707,416 in building fees were collected in Steamboat last year, compared with $592,301 for the rest of the county. Dunham said he has about 15 employees.