Routt County Building Department studying possible cut in permit fees

Tom Ross

— Routt County Building Department Director Ben Grush told county commissioners Tuesday that in addition to improving his department’s level of service, one of his top priorities for 2015 is studying building permit fees and his department’s reserve fund to determine if fees can be reduced.

“We are reviewing the financial position of the department,” Grush said. “We have cash reserves. It’s a question of how much reserves we should have before adjusting permit fees. We need to target that number and make a goal to get to that point.”

Routt County’s Regional Building Department, which also serves the city of Steamboat Springs, is an enterprise fund and depends on permit fees for its operating budget. In the wake of the Great Recession of 2009, with construction on the wane here, Grush’s predecessor Carl Dunham and the commissioners reduced the number of employees in the department, laying off three people in 2010.

Sullivan confirmed Monday that Dunham was concerned at the time that the layoffs would dilute the investment the county had made in advanced training for its veteran building inspectors. He also worried that it would make it a challenge to ramp the department back up should the local construction industry make a sudden recovery.

With the home building here showing signs of renewed activity, Sullivan said he and Grush also are considering asking the commissioners’ approval to offer full-time status to a building inspector who has previously been on seasonal employment status.

Sullivan also confirmed that tentative talks have been renewed with a private building inspection contractor based in Loveland, SAFEbuilt, to determine under what circumstances that company would be willing to conduct building permit reviews, only, on a piece-work basis, should a recovery in the construction business accelerate.

It was at the urging of the city of Steamboat in 2013 that the county studied a proposal by SAFEbuilt to assume the operation of the local building department. The proposal to privatize the building department was ultimately rejected at the urging of members of the local building community.

Tuesday’s conversation led newly-seated County Commissioner Cari Hermacinski to tell Grush she is involved in the construction of wireless cell sites all over the country. She said that in Manhattan, building department officials offer developers the option of choosing from a list of approved private-sector providers for plan review and inspection services in order to expedite their process.

“When we were discussing bringing in SAFEBuilt was there any discussion about ‘let’s do both’ and letting users or customers choose,” between relying on government building department services or turning to the private sector?, Hermacinski asked.

Grush said his concern was that such a system would lead to bidding wars among private providers that might drive them to cut the quality of their service and in turn drive out competitors, which would ultimately lead to the demise of the Routt County Building Department.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1

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