Our view: Busy season ahead | SteamboatToday.com

Our view: Busy season ahead

It was a case of déjà vu when we learned last week that Steamboat Springs City Manager Gary Suiter wanted to investigate the possibility of the city running its own building department in the wake of Routt County Building Department Director Ben Grush's announcement he was leaving the job.

At issue:

The departure of Routt County's top building official has triggered the city's desire to once again explore separating from the regional building department.

This will be the third time in the last decade that the city has considered striking out on its own. The city last brought up the possibility in 2014 when longtime building department head Carl Dunham retired. Then City Manager Deb Hinsvark proposed the city and the county consider privatizing the functions of building plan review and construction inspection by contracting out those services to SAFEbuilt, a Front Range company.

At that time, the Steamboat Pilot & Today editorialized against this direction and encouraged the city and county to stay the course and continue with a local building department, staffed with people who understand the issues that dictate construction conditions here.

The county ultimately made it clear that privatizing the department was not something it was interested in pursuing. It then took a big step forward by purchasing a new software system to streamline the building department's permit-planning process. The modernization of the system resulted in an expedited permit approval schedule, which seemed to satisfy some of the concerns the city had about the permit process.

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The timing of Grush's departure is unfortunate, because it falls at the start of a very busy summer construction season when Steamboat Springs and Routt County are experiencing a bit of a construction boom. Now is the time when contractors and homeowners could benefit from timely inspections and a smooth, predictable permitting process, and we hope Grush's departure and the search to replace him doesn't impinge the building department's ability to meet the needs of the local construction industry.

We don't fault Suiter's desire to revisit the topic. It's his job to consider all options that could result in fiscal savings and improved service for the city, but we hope he comes to his conclusion quickly so decisions can be made about hiring Grush's replacement or planning for the building department's future should the city choose to go it alone.

We continue to believe that Routt County and the city of Steamboat Springs are stronger together than apart, and we are hard pressed to understand how it would be more efficient to operate two separate departments.

But with that said, we do understand the city's desire to take another look at the issue. In our opinion, the city needs to come up with its decision about whether or not it will remain part of the regional building department as soon as reasonably possible to minimize disruption to the current department and the local construction industry as a whole.

In our opinion, part of the evaluation process must involve soliciting input from local building professionals, who understand the current market and depend on a well-run building department to expedite permits and inspections so projects can move forward. A forum that involves local construction professionals and city and county leaders to discuss the future of the regional building department might be a great next step.

Ultimately, the best solution will involve the county and city working collaboratively, under the seasoned leadership of Suiter and County Manager Tom Sullivan, to lay out a path forward that is timely, equitable and creates the least disruption possible to the local construction industry.

At issue:

The departure of Routt County’s top building official has triggered the city’s desire to once again explore separating from the regional building department.

Our view:

The city needs to quickly work through its evaluation process so the Routt County Building Department knows its future.

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