County engineer catches up on building permits

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After a series of delays with building permits and inspections, the Union County Engineer said the office is all caught up.

In recent months, there have been some backlogged permits for commercial buildings that the office has been working to correct.

“The tremendous volume, combined with the complexity of the projects, is where the backlog originated from,” said County Engineer Jeff Stauch. “We are caught up now. Actually, our commercial permits and plan reviews are now in the same week.”

Stauch said he attributes much of the workload to the influx of commercial and residential development in the county, which has greatly increased the demand for service.

“It’s very typical to have dozens of inspections in the course of a day,” he said. “With the houses and multiple sub-divisions, we have people going out everyday. Especially in the summer, we can be extremely busy on a typical summer day.”

In 2017 and 2018, the county saw more than 1,000 single-family residential homes come into the area—nearly 600 of which were in 2018 alone, according to annual reports from the Engineer’s Office. Last year was a record for homes coming in, Stauch said, and with them came the demand for nearly 14,000 inspections.

He added the county had seen a push for single-family homes in high numbers just before the recession more than ten years ago, but eventually stopped and picked back up around 2010.

“Since about 2011, there has been a steady climb in residential housing,” he said.

Over the last two years, the county also saw nearly 100 commercial buildings.

“The number isn’t as high as residential, of course, but those can be a bit more involved and can sometimes take months with meetings, inspections and troubleshooting,” Stauch said. “With a small staff, you’re juggling quite a bit.”

The office has eight full-time employees and two part-time employees not including administrative staff and is looking at the possibility of brining on another engineer.

Last year, the Engineer’s Office hired Chad Herriott, an electrical inspector, in May and Tim Manion, a commercial plans reviewer, in December. The plans reviewer was brought in to help assist with some of the permit and inspection backlog.

“As much as we can, we try to bring in new people that we can then have cross-trained and get multiple certifications so they can handle multiple things,” Stauch said. “The positions supplement what we already have in place and that has really helped immensely.”

He said the turnover time for reviewing plans varies between residential and commercial properties. For residential plans, the office tries to get them reviewed in 2-3 weeks.

“If you drop off a set of house plans in here, we like to think, if they’re a solid set of plans, we can get them back to you with a permit in three weeks and that’s on the high end,” Stauch said. “We like to be closer to two weeks depending on how busy it is.”

For commercial plans, Stauch said he prefers to have plans back within 30 days.

“This time last year, that was probably slipping to 30 days and beyond,” he said. Part of the delay comes in the process, he added.

If the office reviews the plans and returns them with a list of items to correct, the submitting company can take up to 45 days to correct the issues.

“There are a number of projects where those lists come back and say, only seven out of ten issues are corrected. So it can just keep getting pushed back and back,” said Stauch. “What we’re doing more and more with projects are phased approvals.”

He said that allows aspects of a project approved quickly while also keeping the process moving forward instead of getting stopped up by having a long list of issues to correct.

“From a customer service standpoint, that helps get folks going,” he said. “We feel like we’re at a more comfortable place now where things are moving along the way they should be.”



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