City will stick with Clair for building services

March 31, 2012

A proposal to have the city of Hood River cancel its contract with its current building services provider and contract its services to the county wound up being much ado about nothing at Monday's city council meeting.

Two weeks ago City Manager Bob Francis brought a proposal to the city to cancel its contract with Clair Company of Corvallis and take the county up on an offer to handle the city's building services following complaints by several local developers about the lack of a local building official.

The council took no action on the proposal during that meeting, and instructed Francis to have further discussions with the parties involved and report back in two weeks.

Following further discussions with Allan Clair and additional developers working on projects in Hood River, Francis reported back to say that Clair had provided a proposal to staff a building official in Hood River, in addition to Building Inspector Jesse Birge and Project Administrator Julie Harvey.

"There seems to be three main points ... it doesn't matter what correspondence I received, whether they wanted the county to do this job or not do this job, they all thought a local building official was needed," Francis said. "In the proposal Allan Clair sent he addressed that, saying he will have a local official on site and it would not be a problem.

"The two employees who are here now who work for Clair are doing a great job," he said. "They know enough about zoning issues and planning issues; they have a good idea about whether you could do your project or not.

"Also, a lot of people right now are midstream and they don't want to lose money or momentum on their projects ... although they think county services does a good job, they don't want to lose money or momentum."

Francis said he widened the number of people he talked to following his initial proposal and said that many people told him it would be difficult to change officials and inspectors mid-project and that a change could cause them to lose money or momentum if they had to restart inspections and plan change approvals from square one.

Francis said he was asked by the county this week if he could say with certainty he would be endorsing the county's proposal to the city. When he said he could not be sure he would, the county withdrew its offer.

County Administrator David Meriwether said the county submitted a proposal to the city at the city's request but pulled the offer when it became apparent the city was not likely to make a change.

"It was our understanding they were going to make a change and then when it became clear they were not necessarily going to do that we pulled it," Meriwether said.

The county currently handles all building services requests in the county outside of Hood River city limits, and also has a contract with White Salmon to handle that city's building services.

Clair's revised contract with county calls for the company to have a full-time building official in Hood River in about six months. Until an official is hired, Clair will provide on-site building official support at a minimum of one day per week.

In addition to bringing on a local building official, Clair also altered the amount of building permit money it remits to the county. Currently the city receives 10 percent of those funds. Under the revised contract, the city will receive 15 percent.

The 180-degree shift in his recommendation from two weeks, led to an apology from Francis.

"I apologize to council and people here, I think I created a bigger problem than this needed to be ... I was led down a path I didn't need to go down," Francis said. "I think it created a lot of heartburn and a lot of concern and I apologize for that."

Clair was in the audience Monday but did not speak, other than to say "Thank you" after Francis recommended the council take no action.

After the meeting Francis said he should have talked to more people involved in the local development community and did further research before bringing his proposal to the council.

"I made this a bigger issue than I needed to. I talked to very few people and didn't do enough research to see if we should even do this," he said. "If that is the biggest mistake I make as city manager, I can live with that."

Babitz said he felt the changes the city has seen over the last two years since in contracted to Clair have turned the building services department from an area in which the city was hemorrhaging money into a "success story.

"It seems like we a good solution here," he said. "And we look forward to a continuing success story."

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