The City of Moab has budgeted for the creation of a building inspector position in its proposed 2018-19 budget plan — and that has the county’s chief building official concerned for city taxpayers, and for the potential effect on the county building department’s staffing.
“The city’s plan to provide only one inspector will cause homeowners fees to go up,” chief building official for the county, Jeff Whitney said, adding that the proposed change is a concern only for property owners in the city who buy insurance, and not for the people in the county.
The city is budgeting $130,375 for the new position, including salary and benefits in the amount of $50,375 for half a fiscal year. Moab currently doesn’t have its own building inspection department. Building projects in the city are currently contracted to the Grand County Building Department for planning and inspection.
The Grand County Building Department was budgeted for approximately $386,218, Whitney said, in 2017. Under its present arrangement with the county, the City of Moab pays 50 percent of that budget.
“We took in about $500,000 in permit fees and plan review fees for 2017,” Whitney said. That means the county’s building department is “in the black,” said Whitney.
Ending the building inspection contract between the City of Moab and Grand County later this year could put the county’s building department “in the red.” With three building inspectors on the county’s staff, the county could let one of its county inspectors go. That decision is ultimately up to the Grand County Council to decide, Whitney said.
Whitney delivered the Grand County Building Department’s report on April 17 to the Grand County Council. In that report, Whitney said his concern is for the city and the city taxpayers, should the city move forward with creating its own building inspection department.
Whitney said the homeowner insurance fees for people in the city could rise proportionately to the city’s Insurance Services Office (ISO) rating.
The City of Moab is given an ISO rating by an agency, which the homeowner insurance companies look at when determining homeowner and building insurance fees. The ISO rating is assigned based on several factors, including the number of inspectors a department has, the number of inspections they do and the programs they adopt, Whitney said.
CITY MANAGER SAYS FEES NOT LIKELY TO RISE
According to Moab City Manager David Everitt, the city’s allottment of $130,375 will pay the salary and benefits for one city building-inspector for half of the fiscal year and cover the costs of professional and technical services.
Everitt has been working on the city’s budget and the plans for creating the city’s first building inspector position. Everitt spoke with the Moab Sun News on April 23 and did not share the same concern as Whitney over the potential for homeowner insurance fees to rise based on the city’s ISO rating.
Everitt said the ISO ratings are dependent upon a range of factors that also includes the strength of the engineering department, and said the city is confident that having a city building inspector working with the city engineer would keep the city’s rating stable, or even cause homeowner fees to decrease.
“In discussions I’ve had with other building officials in the state, it sounds like insurance companies more and more make their own actuarial calculations to derive their rates and do not necessarily rely solely on ISO,” Everitt said.
If that change does have an impact on the ISO rating for the city, Everitt said the city would be notified first and then given a chance to fix the issue.
Moab City Council members met April 24 to review and approve the tentative budget plan and discussed each line item listed in the budget for planning and development.
Everitt said the city’s proposed changes being made to planning and development staff reflect a balance of needs for the community. A separate line item in the planning budget also includes planning salaries for hiring an assistant planner and administrative assistant in the planning and zoning department. Moab City Planner Jeff Reinhart said the additional staff in the planning department will help the city to track building permits and projected housing growth.
MAYOR SUPPORTIVE OF INVESTMENTS
Responding to Reinhart’s comments in the meeting, Moab Mayor Emily Niehaus said the city has a lot of work to do, and the addition of the staff members for planning and development will provide better service to the community.
“I’m excited … to provide more planning services and to expand the way that the city is able to facilitate good, planned growth. I very much support the expansion of the planning department to have the resources that you need,” Niehaus said.
Niehaus said the city has been discussing the expansion of the planning department since January and said it is one of the council’s priorities.
“We’re putting our money where our mouth is,” Niehaus said.
Niehaus asked Everitt to explain the reasoning behind the city’s idea to expand the planning staff to include the addition of a city building-inspector.
Everitt said, “We feel it would be a more efficient use of resources and by nature be a better way of coordinating among the players and we feel pretty strongly that it’s a better way of serving the residents of Moab.”
“That efficiency really does help drive positive development in our community,” Niehaus said.
Niehaus asked Reinhart if he believed that the proposed budget was enough money to give the planning department the “human capacity” that it needs to move forward and do the work.
Reinhart paused for about 30 seconds before responding, “Well, I believe … that we can do it.”
RAPID HOTEL GROWTH PLACING DEMANDS ON INSPECTORS
At the April 17 county meeting, Whitney said the county has three certified building-inspectors, and said he feels concerned that the city’s plan to have just one building inspector means that the city won’t be able to do all of the inspections, including those required for up-and-coming hotels in Moab. That has the potential to have an effect on the city’s ISO rating, Whitney said.
Six hotels are on the county’s docket, and Whitney said just two of those are in the county.
“We’re pretty busy,” Whitney told Grand County Council in his report on the county’s building inspections.
In an interview with the Moab Sun News on April 23, Whitney said the Grand County Building Department inspectors “try really hard” to make sure no one has to wait more than 24 hours for a building inspection.
“We’ve done a lot of hotels over the years,” Whitney said. “Last year we had the other half of the Marriott, the Hampton that went up, and the one down below the Sunset Grill, and that’s a lot, but there are six new ones being proposed right now, so that’s a lot for a small town like Moab.”
Whitney said that in the long run, the city may be fine with having only one building inspector for all city projects. But he also added that there may be obstacles in finding someone to fill the city’s position, and named the area’s affordable housing issue as an impediment.
“I’ve never been able to hire a certified inspector. I’ve had to find a local with a place to live and get them certified,” said Whitney, who has worked with the county for 29 years and will retire from his position in 2020. Whitney’s upcoming retirement may mean that the county would not need to let one of its inspectors go should there be a change in the county’s budget resulting in the city’s decision to end its contract and create its own inspection department. According to the county, by law, the building inspection department must have two building inspectors.
Everitt said he disagrees somewhat with Whitney’s concerns about hiring.
“We have discussed that and I certainly recognize it’s a challenge to recruit people generally. A difference here is that the county has always recruited people for lower-level jobs in the inspector’s office, as opposed to us recruiting at the ‘Building Official’ level. It’s a little bit apples and oranges,” Everitt said.
Moving ahead with the budget plan, the city is now calling for public comments on the tentative budget that is proposed, and will hold a public hearing on May 8 at 7:15 p.m. at the Moab City Council Chambers. Public comments may be submitted until the May 22 deadline.
Once the final version of the budget passes, the city could begin looking to hire someone to fill the new city building inspector position as early as July 1.
Everitt added that the city does not have a specific individual in mind for the new job.
County building inspector says his department could be impacted, and that some building owners in city may see higher costs
The City will hold a public hearing on the proposed 2018-19 budget on May 8 at
7:15 p.m. at the Moab City Council chambers, 217 E. Center St.
The Moab City Council will accept comments on the proposed budget until May 22,
when the Council is scheduled to vote on the final budget.
Comments may be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed or hand-delivered to Moab City Council, 217 E. Center St., Moab, UT 84532.
To access the online budget tool visit moab.abalancingact.com/budget or go to the City of
Moab’s website, moabcity.org, and click on the “City Budget” button on the home page.
“We’re putting our money where our mouth is.” – Emily Niehaus