Revisiting familiar discussion
Saratoga Planning Commission, former building inspectors discuss permanent zoning officer/building inspector position
November 20, 2019
At the Nov. 12 meeting of the Saratoga Planning Commission, familiar discussion returned as how to approach the issue of the lack of a permanent zoning officer and building inspector. The Town of Saratoga continues to be without a permanent zoning officer or building inspector, now entering its ninth month using Kent Smith on an as-needed basis. During the Nov. 5 meeting of the Saratoga Town Council, Ordinance No. 856, which had been tabled in October, was not renewed for discussion and died on the table.
As was reported previously (see “Budgeting for zoning” on page 3 of the Sept. 11 Saratoga Sun and “Not quite zoned in” on page 13 of the Sept. 25 Saratoga Sun), Ordinance No. 856 had been written with the intention of transferring approximately $11,000 from the Saratoga Police Department’s vehicle replacement fund to planning and zoning.
In the time that it has taken the town council to discuss the ordinance, Mayor John Zeiger and Councilmember Steve Wilcoxson both expressed opposition to the budget amendment. Additionally, two potential candidates withdrew their applications before the ordinance could make it to second reading.
Councilmember Bob Keel, who serves as the representative for the planning commission, returned to the commission members to share the issues he saw with attempting to fill the position.
“I wanted to bring up issues with the zoning officer position and possible alternatives. I think the issues are that the applicant pool was really small and that we’re having a hard time finding someone to fill that,” said Keel. “Second is, as far as other options, Councilman Wilcoxson brought up that, possibly, instead of having a town employee we contract our services out.”
Keel informed the planning commission that, following the previous town council meeting, he had contacted Chuck Bartlett of WLC. Bartlett, before working with the Rawlins-based engineering company, had served as the zoning officer and building inspector for the Town of Saratoga. Bartlett was in attendance at the planning commission along with Dan Ferrin, who was also employed with the Town of Saratoga for the same position.
Bartlett informed the planning commission that one possible solution would be to decrease the fee schedule for building permits and put the cost of the inspection on the homeowner. He added, however, that it could lead to homeowners not paying for the inspection and putting the Town of Saratoga in a worse position than it currently is in.
“First off, I think you need a building inspector. I know WLC could do the inspections for you, but … it’s going to be a lot more cost than what you’re going to be paying somebody. So, I don’t think that’s really an option for the town,” said Bartlett.
Bartlett then echoed a familiar point of conversation, stating that a part-time building inspector could be used as needed within other departments for the Town of Saratoga. This had been first introduced as a solution following Ferrin’s departure from the town.
“We did discuss quite a bit, shortly after Dan left, of having someone float from department to department as needed and there was some concern over being able to keep them busy or, if you’re moving to a different department, is there going to be heartburn between departments,” said acting Chairman Tom Westring.
“I imagine, whatever you do, someone’s not going to be happy,” replied Ferrin.
As discussion continued, the lack of a permanent zoning officer and building inspector impacting town revenue became apparent. Ferrin, picking up on Bartlett’s earlier suggestion of lowering the fee schedule and putting the inspection cost on the homeowner, added that it could be required that the report be filed with the zoning officer. Keel informed both Ferrin and Bartlett that he had looked into revenue from building permits for the calendar year and “it was not significant at all.”
“I know, when I was the building inspector, we were collecting somewhere between $30-$40,000 a year,” replied Bartlett.
“We’re not even a tenth of that,” said Keel.
Bartlett added that, during his time with the Town of Saratoga, it had been attempted to have the Saratoga Police Department report on construction without a building permit. According to Bartlett, however, that had little success. Ferrin added that he did not have any success in recruiting the police department, either.
“I look at it as the building inspector’s job being … a service that the town should be providing to the public and you got to protect the public. The only way to do that is have someone oversee everything that’s being built around town,” Bartlett said.
Bartlett and Ferrin made additional suggestions that had been previously discussed by the planning commission, which included cost-sharing a full-time building inspector with Riverside, Encampment or Hanna.
“I think the town council would like to have a recommendation from the planning commission,” Keel said. “I’m not saying we have to have one today.”
Seemingly back at square one, the planning commission and the Town of Saratoga will continue to use Smith on an as-needed basis. It is likely that advertising for the position will reopen and remain open until the position is filled.
The next meeting of the Saratoga Planning Commission will be at 5:30 p.m. on Dec. 10 at Saratoga Town Hall.