County Comment: County Permits and Inspections Presents Scale-Down Plan

County Comment
County Permits and Inspections Presents Scale-Down Plan
by Norman Bassett, Public Information Officer
Washington County, Maryland

On February 24th, 2009, Washington County Board of County Commissioners heard a departmental review from Permits and Inspections Director Dan Divito that would reduce the number of employees in that department due to the downturn in residential construction.
Citing P&I as the first County department to need expansion during times of housing increase, Divito told the Board that when economic factors dictate fewer requests for permits "coming in the door", that personnel levels should be adjusted. New housing starts are down by 40% in the first 8 months of the current fiscal year, while overall permits are down 18%, he said.
Divito presented a plan, based on the County's Workforce Reduction Policy, specific to his department, which would be based on need. "The economic realities that surround us and uniquely affect our department require us to react in a responsible manner", he said.
The Department has trimmed its 29 person staff by 5 full-time positions, through attrition, and positions funded but never filled. In addition one part-time electrical inspector position that had been funded would not be filled.
Divito told the Board that his department had trimmed its operating budget in each of the previous three fiscal years, and by reducing workforce, would make additional cuts for 2010.
"It is critically important for the community to realize that we feel their pain, are trying to adapt and are acutely aware of our responsibilities," he said.
Commissioners said that the plan should be reviewed in light of the County's policy, and the overall policy amended to reflect certain procedures that DiVito had suggested be put into place.
Other parts of the plan called for creation of a Citizens' Advisory Board for the department, and a name change from Department of Permits and Inspections to Department of Building Safety. DiVito said the new name would more accurately reflect the departmental mission to "protect the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of Washington County," through the permitting and inspections process.
Commissioners did not agree with that change, stating that it could be difficult for a citizen seeking a permit to find the right place to call for information if looking the number up in a phone book.
Divito told the Board that even though new housing construction permits are down, P&I staff made 42,000 inspections so far in the fiscal year, closed 2,406 building permits, and 3,232 trade permits. The department is working on 7,000 open permits including some that have been in the queue since 2005, when the housing boom began in the county.
The Commissioners reached consensus to form the advisory committee, and have the Attorney's office review the proposed personnel policy and bring it back for discussion at a later date.