Building inspectors taking on other tasks until economy picks back up

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

By Jessie Burchette
With the home building industry on life support, many counties have opted to cut building inspectors to help trim budgets.
Earlier this month, Caldwell County wiped out most of its planning department, terminating six of eight employees. Other counties have taken similar action.
Rowan County is taking a different tack. Officials here are doing everything they can to keep the inspections staff because they are confident building will pick up. Since the county already has a major investment in its inspection staff, building inspectors will be staying busy ó somewhere in county government.
Inspectors may be showing up in any number of county departments, helping out until building picks up.
One inspector is already filling in for a fire inspector who was called up for military service in Iraq.
Other inspectors will be helping the tax office with revaluation.
County Manager Gary Page said recently, if necessary, inspectors can help out in Social Services.
“When times are good and permits are being requested, having the best qualified people is a plus,” Page said. “When times turn down, you don’t want to throw away the people you’ve spent money and time on.
“We’ll hang on to them. … The economy will turn. They might end up in DSS, the tax office. They could be in any department.”
Derek Overcash is already on the job doing fire inspections for Tom Murphy, fire marshal and head of the county’s fire inspections division.
He will fill in for Aaron Youngblood, a reservist called up for training and deployment to Iraq. His job will be waiting when his year of military service ends.
Murphy said the deployment came at a tough time for Youngblood, who became a fire inspector in September. The Youngbloods are expecting their first child.
Having the building inspectors to fill in is a plus. “Sometimes it’s hard to find an inspector for a temporary job. Most are looking for full-time work.”
Murphy said having building inspectors move over to do fire inspections is a natural fit. “It’s working out good,” Murphy said.
Ed Muire, director of planning and development, is in discussion with Jerry Rowland, tax administrator, about other work for inspectors.
Under the plan, inspectors will assist with picking up new construction, measuring and documenting it as part of the revaluation process already under way.
Muire takes a long view of the building situation.
The county issued nine permits for single-family homes in January and another 14 in February.
Typically, 40 permits are issued in each of those months.
Muire said multi-family and commercial building is continuing to generate inspection work.
“It’s feast or famine. Some days we have three or four pages of inspections … some days there are 20 pages,” Muire said.
Just over two years ago, the county was caught up in a wave of commercial and home building.
There was so much building, the county’s inspections department couldn’t keep up fast enough to suit builders.
County records show 2007 was the best on record for single family homes.
County officials and commissioners heard from builders who said delays were costing them time and money.
Some veteran building inspectors were overwhelmed by the workload and fled to adjacent counties that paid more for less work.
Former County Manager Bill Cowan tackled the situation, revamping the organization and creating a separate Planning and Development Department that includes inspections and planning.
County commissioners approved four new positions, including three inspectors in 2006 and 2007. They bought a high-tech inspections software package and laptops to speed up the workflow.
The department now includes eight field inspectors, a plans examiner, a manager and assistant manager.