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Cities to drop Troutdale inspectors

Fairview, Wood Village to seek out private companies

The cities of Fairview and Wood Village have decided to discontinue their respective agreements with the city of Troutdale's Building Division and pursue other options for building inspections when current contracts expire in July.

Both cities cite the need for more control over the inspection process, customer service issues and a desire not to interfere with an extensive evaluation project by a consulting group.

Troutdale has provided commercial and residential inspection services to Fairview and Wood Village for years. Contracts for the two neighboring cities expire on July 1, after which time each city will have to provide services through another entity. Both cities indicated they would pursue contracts with private companies that offer inspection services.

'We've had a long relationship with Troutdale, which we appreciate,' said Joe Gall, Fairview city administrator. 'We want more control of our own building department. We want to explore other options and see if there is a better way of providing service.'

Fairview plans to put out a request for proposal (RFP) to private companies that provide building services in Oregon. The city will choose a provider based on a competitive bid process. City officials decided to explore private firms 'rather than contracting with another jurisdiction,' said Gall.

Wood Village will take the same approach, said Mayor Dave Fuller. He cited complaints about customer information and a general interest in exploring other options as the main reasons for terminating the collaboration. Wood Village City Council members recently made a unanimous motion not to renew the contract with Troutdale and issue an RFP for private contractors.

'We've been contracting with Troutdale for well over 20 years,' Fuller said. 'We've always had an excellent relationship with both staff and elected officials. We fully expect that's going to continue. Just in this one area we had gotten some complaints from businesses about the services.

'People were complaining that they didn't have all the right information they needed,' he said. 'We hope we can (find a way of) providing better information to customers so they can understand' the inspection process.

John Anderson, Troutdale city administrator, said he and other city officials worked with Fairview and Wood Village for about a year to address their concerns. Levels of service and the cities' involvement with processing permit questions and complaints were among issues they were working through.

'We didn't disagree' with those concerns, he said. 'We have a scope of work we've been looking at to make changes in the Building Division.'

In an effort to improve its services, Troutdale officials hired Collins Consulting Services to evaluate the department and offer recommendations for improvement. In late 2007, the firm issued its findings in a 54-page report.

It grouped its findings into five categories, including customer service, compliance with state law, management practices and operations, technology and employee morale. The report's summary made note of the department's relationship with neighboring cities.

'It became evident there are disagreements between Troutdale, Fairview and Wood Village about the type and level of service provided by the Division and the fact there are unresolved concerns,' the Collins report stated.

Ironically, both Fairview and Wood Village officials cited the report as influencing their decisions to pursue other options.

Fairview officials, while appreciating the spirit behind the consulting work, felt their involvement might hinder Troutdale's efforts to streamline services.

'They're trying to improve their best practices in an effort to provide superior service,' Gall said. 'It's a difficult process. This is a huge undertaking. We just believe we'd probably make that process more difficult for Troutdale to go through.

'We'd thought about a private company anyway,' Gall added. 'This convinced us this was the way to go anyway, and let them focus on improving their procedures.'

Fuller, who talked with Gall about the possibility of sending RFPs out together, had similar concerns.

'The consultant gave them a number of recommendations,' he said. 'It's a heck of a lot easier for them to go through that without putting up with our contracts. We'd just get in the way.'

Troutdale Mayor Paul Thalhofer admits he's not pleased with the cities' decisions to defect. The Collins group was called in largely to address concerns expressed by Fairview and Wood Village officials.

'It's too bad, because the one reason why we had this evaluation was to please those two jurisdictions and work better with them,' he said. 'To have them decide not to continue, it's kind of disappointing.'

Thalhofer estimated it would take two to three years to implement the recommendations from the Collins report. Still, he's not convinced every issue raised by the other cities was the fault of Troutdale's Building Division.

'I'm not sure all the complaints are well founded,' he said, conceding, 'We were trying to do something positive to make things better.'

To express his frustration with the situation, Thalhofer rattled off the lyrics to an old Kenny Rogers tune.

'You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille.'