Reorganization targets better serviceA proposal to reorganize Superior’s building inspection division is raising eyebrows for some.
By: Shelley Nelson, Superior Telegram
A proposal to reorganize Superior’s building inspection division is raising eyebrows for some.
The city council on Tuesday delayed action on a plan that would place management responsibility for the building inspection division on the city’s chief assessor.
Superior resident Dee Fetters questioned the city’s intent with the proposal.
“Is this proposal going to cost or save the city money,” Fetters asked the council. “If it’s not going to do anything, why even do it … what is the reason for building inspection going under the assessor’s office. What if any services are being duplicated by doing this.
“I’m wondering if it is to train inspectors to reassess property,” Fetters asked, wondering what impact that would have on the public’s control over right of entry into their homes.
While the proposal left some city councilors with questions too, former Superior Mayor Dave Ross said Wednesday, the goal behind hiring a consultant to evaluate operations in the building inspection division was aimed at improving service to the public.
“What we were concerned about was to have building inspection be more customer friendly,” Ross said. “Part of doing that was we really needed to take a good hard look operationally at how we were doing things … in the mayor’s office a good number of complaints are generated by enforcement action by building inspection.”
Ross said while the division does have to do its job, he said many times, people just need to know what the law is and simply don’t realize their obligations.
“It’s the approach in how we deal with it that becomes very important in how people are treated,” Ross said. “We’re trying to achieve the goal of more customer service and less enforcement.”
Council Vice President Tom Bridge, who has sat with building inspection personnel and constituents facing enforcement action over issues, said that improving the way taxpayers are treated is absolutely essential.
“It would solve a lot of problems to get rid of a horrible policy and knock on the door,” Bridge said.
Sometimes a knock on the door and talking to the property owner is the best approach to rectify a situation, said Chief Appraiser Brad Theien. Among his goals for the division is to improve relationships with the public with a new approach.
Under the current system, if a homeowner has a situation where they are out of compliance with property maintenance regulations, the first contact with the city notifying them of the problem is a “notice to correct” — the first step in the enforcement process.
Theien said rather than immediately leaping to take enforcement action on the issue, sometimes simply notifying a homeowner the condition is not compliant to city ordinances is sufficient to resolving most issues. In most cases, the property owner will correct the problem before enforcement is necessary if they are simply made aware of the law, he said.
“A lot of times when we do things, it’s a result of getting feedback that says we need to improve,” Ross said. “That’s why we do things, so when ran into a number of situations in which I thought taxpayers could have been treated more fairly … it was simply trying to find a way to improve the department and make it better.”
Among Theien’s goals for the division is to make information about building inspection requirements, permits and applications more readily accessible to the public, implement technology to work efficiently with other departments that may need access to the data and develop a more equitable permit fee structure based on the number of inspections rather than value of the project. In many cases, the values vary greatly for similar projects, making the system less than equitable.
Ross said it doesn’t make sense that someone of low income who wants to do $100 improvement to replace a drafty window, the permit fee is going to cost them $50.
With retirements in recent years and shrinking resources to pay for new staff, the building inspection division has gone from a staff of 6½ positions to four, Theien said. At the same time, he said, the responsibilities staff are required to take on have grown and the plan alleviates the need for the chief inspector to handle supervisory tasks in addition to inspection responsibilities.
Under the plan to restructure the building inspection division, Theien will be responsible for rebuilding operating procedures, something he has already done with the GIS department.
Theien was put in charge of managing that department, in part because of his leadership in rebuilding the city’s assessor’s office after years of contracting for the service. Under his direction, the city’s GIS department worked toward cooperation with the county to combine resources. The work done has moved the data accessible through the GIS system from the desktops of a few people in city and county offices to a public system available to anyone over the Internet with savings of about $150,000 in licensing costs for the GIS system software.
“I think we need to look at these policies, fees and how we do things,” Ross said. “That’s what drove hiring the consultant and drove the policy decisions that went to the council.”