The New Canaan Board of Selectmen on Tuesday approved a request from the Building Department for a new full-time building inspector to handle an increase in the number of applications for building permits.
The proposed full-time position, which is still subject to approval from the Board of Finance, will in effect replace the part-time, contracted position that was approved in the 2012-2013 town budget.
As explained by First Selectman Rob Mallozzi, Chief Building Official Brian Platz came before the board earlier in the year with a request for a full time position and "we deferred — we had him come back a second time," before the board finally approved a part time position as a compromise to handle the extra load.
Selectman Nick Williams said he thought Platz "made a very strong and eloquent case back in budget season for full time help."
"We didn't all agree, but I still think it was the right thing for us to say 'do what you can on a part time basis, and if things, God willing, get better in terms of construction starts, then come on back to us….'" Williams said.
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According to figures presented by Platz, as reviewed by Mallozzi, the building department issued 27 permits for new single family dwellings from Jan. 1 through Sept. 28 of this year, up from 16 for the same period last year. The total number of permits issued for that same period was 1,121, compared to 784 in the previous corresponding period. Similarly, the total number of inspections performed was 3,758, compared to 2,984 for the same period last year.
"We're seeing an increase in all permit activity, all construction activity, transference of properties, everything is going up," Platz said.
Meanwhile the average wait time for inspections has grown to 1-2 weeks; the average wait time for permit approvals 6-10 weeks; and the wait time for research requests 5 to 15 business days.
As explained by Director of Human Resources Cheryl Pickering Jones, the town had budgeted $60,000 for the contracted, part time building inspector.
"Of that [approved] $60,000, we have about $53,000 [left]," she said. "We project that we will use another $2,000 — we would bring this [new] employee on by Nov. 1, to give us time to interview. With the eight months [left in budget year 2012-2013], the salary would come in at about $45,772, and the cost of the benefits package is about $21,545, so the total cost from now to June 30 would be $67,317. With the $51,000 [left] in the budget, we would be looking for an additional $16,317."
Jones said the town has some money in the employee line in the budget which had been earmarked for other positions that have not yet been filled. She said a simple line item transfer within the department budget would cover the difference.
Mallozzi said the move will actually create labor efficiency because the current part time contracted building inspector is paid about $50 an hour — with the new full time position the town will be paying "only about half that" in actual labor, "yet we will have this employee five days a week."
Platz said there was a period of time the department had two part time contract employees, who worked on different days of the week, "and that was actually more work for me, to juggle two part time schedules — and answering questions on their behalf on the days they weren't in the office…"
He said he would welcome the additional help to get the department back on schedule.
"Kudos to you and your staff for dealing with this new rush of construction," Williams said.
Meanwhile the department is forecast to collect more than $1 million in permit fees this year, Platz said, adding that it has raised more than $800,000 so far in 2012.
"I think our numbers are going to be close to where they were six years ago," Platz said.
Mallozzi said when he drives around town, "I see so much construction activity going on — not so much new homes, but lots of additions, renovations and remodeling… "
"I think there are a lot of people who are determined to stay in place in New Canaan which is wonderful," Mallozzi said. "But I see it everywhere, you can't drive down any road and not see work going on."
"I think there's two sides of this," Platz said. "I think the land prices came down and when they hit what most people considered rock bottom, they pounced."
Most of those land deals he said, resulted in "tear downs" where the original house on the property was razed and a new one constructed.
"The upside to being construction friendly is that there is no additional demand on town services when there is a tear down," Platz said. 'If you take a 2,000 square foot central hall colonial that was generating possibly $10,000 to $12,000 in real estate taxes and replace it with a 6,000 to 8,000 square foot contemporary that generates maybe $40,000 to 60,000 in taxes — we're still maintaing the road in front of the house and chances are there's still 2.2 children or 1.9 children [in the public schools]."
The request for the full time position next goes before the Board of Finance.