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City plans to reclaim building permit program


   With 1,030 lots on 13 subdivisions approved since the beginning of the year, the city believes it is time to reclaim the city building permit program from the county.
   The problem, according to City Administrator Mike Morgan, is that there have been mistakes made as a result of a breakdown between the city's development code standard and building permit issuance.
   "We have a bifurcated management system that's creating confusion, delays, management errors and loss of accountability, and that needs to be addressed," he said.
   For example, Morgan said, the city requires a garage when a manufactured home is built inside the city limits. In several cases, he said, permits were issued without the inclusion of a garage.
   The city had its own building permit program and building inspector until April of 1987, when it entered into the first of a series of intergovernmental agreements with the county to provide both building inspection services and planning services.
   The most recent agreement, dated June 26, 2002, states that either the city or county can terminate the contract for building inspection services upon written notice of intent to terminate prior to Dec. 31 of a given year.
   The city must also file notice of intent to administer a new inspection program with the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services Building Codes Division before the end of the year.
   When Morgan suggested to the county that the city and county enter into the same kind of agreement that Deschutes County has with the city of Redmond, he received a chilly reception.
   At the July 12 city/county meeting, which Morgan was unable to attend, County Administrator Matthew Birnie said that the county has done a good job of administering the state's program for the city.
   "I really believe the program is working well," said Birnie. "Any fracturing of the program wouldn't help us."
   Noting that the county took over the program when the city couldn't afford it, Birnie commented that attempting to take it back now "seems pretty opportunistic to me, quite frankly." He suggested that the county work with the city on any performance issues.
   Birnie suggested that the county has subsidized the program for many years by providing the facility and the technical staff. "It's never been anything that's even in the black until the last two years," he said.
   From a customer service standpoint, Birnie said that the city is small and consolidation makes more sense than two separate inspection programs. "I don't see it being in the city's interest," he said.
   If the city reclaimed the building inspection program, County Community Development Department Director Chris Gannon said it would cripple his department. "We'd have to lay off about 66 percent of my staff, because most of the permits come through the city of Madras," he said.
   Commenting that the city's proposal was one-sided, county officials declined the city's contract.
   Over the past year, building inspection permits totaled about $197,000 in the city of Madras. Building permits include those for plumbing, driveways, sidewalks, and hooking into sewer, among others.
   Under the city proposal, for every dollar spent on building permits, 46 percent would go to the county, and 54 percent to the city, except for electrical permits, which would provide 75 percent to the county and 25 percent to the city.
   Chuck McGraw, director of the Madras Community Development Department, said it makes sense for the city to administer its own program. "Over time, (Madras) will continue to grow faster than the county; that's the nature of cities," he said.
   Morgan finds it ironic that the county is reluctant to part with the program now. In 1999, when he was county administrator, the county notified the city that it would no longer provide building inspection services.
   "The notification came after the filing deadline, so the county rescinded that," he said. "The county agreed to continue to provide services to the city of Madras until a program could be worked out in accordance with the state timeline."
   If the city reclaims the program, Morgan expects the city to contract with the county for building inspection services, but noted that Culver contracts with a private inspection firm.
   The change is necessary to improve service to builders, Morgan believes. "I've had several cases where I've had customers come in wanting to know why their building permit is taking so long to get processed," he said.
   "When you have two organizations partnering to provide the same service to one customer," he added, "it obviously becomes difficult to hold someone responsible for delays."
   Since the county would not agree to his proposal, Morgan intends to follow the procedures and timeline outlined in the 2002 intergovernmental agreement to terminate the contract before next year.