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Increased building permits no job guarantee for county inspectors

by Jane Stebbins

Building Permits issued first quarter

Year Number

1990 29

1991 22

1992 45

1993 37

1994 37

1995 66

1996 49

1997 34

1998 61

1999 61

2000 65

2001 54

2002 62

BRECKENRIDGE – Building permits in Summit County were up 15 percent in the first quarter of 2002, but county commissioners still are considering whether to lay off another building inspector due to low permit revenues last year.

Permits are a major indicator of the county’s economic health, said county Building Inspector Larry Renfroe. And based on comments made by local contractors, he expects permit requests to continue to increase as the national economy recovers.

“We’ve experienced an encouraging 15 percent increase (in building valuations) from last year, from $5.7 million to $6.5 million,” he said in a report to commissioners. “Given projected activity levels for the year, we may realize a 30 percent increase in revenues. If this 15 percent increase is maintained as we expect it will be for the remainder of the year, the total revenue for the department should increase from $868,950 in 2001 to $999,292 in 2002.”

That increase, he said, should be more than enough to cover the cost of retaining an inspector to the end of the year.

Currently, the county building department is comprised of 12 employees, including two administrative staffers, two plans examiners, one permit technician and five inspectors. The department already has had to lay off three people, one in each division of the department.

But because things are looking up, Renfroe said, he’d like to keep all five inspectors on the payroll. Renfroe originally suggested eliminating a position at the end of 2002. That date was moved to May 1, subject to an evaluation by county officials of how building activity is doing in the county.

The estimated increase in permits is based on submitted and proposed projects, including Borders Books, a restaurant, a 20-unit condo complex and a 40-unit complex with a 72-car garage in Dillon; 15 to 20 homes at Farmer’s Grove south of Farmer’s Korner; 59 single-family homes and electrical inspections for Target in Silverthorne; and a variety of residential units at Copper Mountain.

Commissioners weren’t convinced, however.

“I don’t want to do anything based on the potential of something happening, whether it’s in staffing or the budget,” said commissioners Gary Lindstrom. “We want to base everything on actual numbers, not projected numbers. We’ve sat in this room all last year, and got caught believing there’s a pie in the sky, and there isn’t.”

Renfroe noted county inspectors work hard, conducting more inspections per employee each year than the industry norm – and that despite the fact they spend more time getting from one location to another than do inspectors in most parts of the United States.

The number of inspections each employee conducts and the number of inspections and their valuation are the two most important indicators of a healthy economy and an efficient staff, Renfroe said.

Last year, six inspectors conducted a total of 17,108 inspections, or about 13 apiece each work day.

Fifty-four inspections were conducted in the first quarter of 2001, compared to 65 in 2000 and 62 this year.

Building valuations in the first quarter of 2000 totalled $16,142,722, but plunged to $5,711,246 for the same period last year. The first quarter of this year showed a slight improvement, with valuations totalling $6,570,891.

Renfroe said employee numbers should be maintained so customer service doesn’t deteriorate as it did in the early 1990s, when people complained about cursory inspections and long delays in plan reviews.

Jane Stebbins can be reached at 668-3998 ext. 228 or jstebbins@summitdaily.com.


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