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Neighboring cities could build together


Cornelius, Forest Grove explore merging building departments

With two cities essentially right next door to each other and budget realities hitting home, Cornelius City Manager Rob Drake realized there might be a way for Cornelius and Forest Grove to both save money.

Drake reasoned that the two adjacent cities do not necessarily need individual building departments, especially in a time when fewer construction projects are under way in Cornelius than in previous years.

“We are talking with Forest Grove about contracting with them for building-department services,” Drake explained. “An internal working group for both agencies is working together now to help make it happen.”

Forest Grove Director of Administrative Services Paul Downey said final details are yet to be worked out.

“We hope it will benefit both cities. If not, we won’t do it,” Downey said.

Drake hatched the merger idea while watching his city’s building-fund finances. “We’d save a chunk of money,” he said. “We’re currently losing $90,000 a year. Their people are processing more applications, so it would be more efficient. We’re hoping Forest Grove would raise enough revenue from it to have the program pay for itself.”

Forest Grove’s proposed fiscal year 2013-14 budget calls for the hiring of another full-time building inspector because, Downey pointed out, residential building activity in Forest Grove has been on an upswing over the past couple of years.

“We have processed about 140 permits for single-family homes so far this year — well above last year,” he said.

It’s the opposite story in Cornelius. In the city’s proposed fiscal year 2013-14 budget, changes to the building department are already penciled in. The city expects to eliminate one full-time employee and a part-time inspector, while the city’s land-use planner and director of community development would continue to provide the remaining regular land-use services.

Drake said if both cities agree on the proposal, the Cornelius Building Department would be mothballed.

“They would take it over. We’d send people to Forest Grove,” he said. “Our goal is to have it work by July 1st.”

Drake noted that Cornelius could revive its building department if building activity were to pick up significantly.

“We wouldn’t be losing the department permanently,” he said. “We’d probably do a contract for a year or two to start with, and include an opt-out clause for either side.”