Builders push for changes at the city

The City of Hood River will take a hard look at its building permit and inspection services, following a third straight appearance at city council meetings by local builders calling for action.

City Council unanimously approved Councilor Peter Cornelison’s motion to instruct City Manager Steve Wheeler to do an assessment of pros and cons of either reviving the city building program, disbanded in 2010, or contracting with Hood River County for building services, which builders and others have been lobbying for.

In other business:

Council Member Megan Saunders announced, to applause, “We finished the Children’s Park build.” Saunders said some “finishing touches” remain in addition to placing the ground surface in mid-July, but that the park is on schedule for grand reopening on July 28. The build work party, part two, took place June 21-23; all told, more than 400 volunteers helped on the project in the two work parties this month.

The council held an executive session in which it narrowed its city manager search to seven finalists, to replace Wheeler, who will retire after the new manager is on board.

Interviews with the finalists are scheduled July 10-11 with City Council, as well as an ad hoc committee of community members and local agency representatives. In addition, the community will be invited to a gathering to meet the finalists; the full schedule of the two days’ events will be finalized later this week.

One process the new manager will inherit is who will provide building services for the county: The current private contractor, Clair Co., of Corvallis, or another company, Hood River County, or the city itself in a revitalized department.

Builders have argued for months that the current system, in place since 2010, is inefficient and costly. That year, the city disbanded its building department and contracted with Clair.

The council heard about 25 minutes of testimony from builders and other members of the newly-formed Hood River Builders Coalition.

In a memo to council, Wheeler had proposed three “service improvement” steps that The Clair Co. “has indicated its willingness to do,” a document developed since the June 11 meeting, when coalition members also called for an end to the Clair contract and returning the program to Hood River.

Wheeler wrote that the three suggestions were: Lead a seminar for builders on how to “navigate issues that will assist in preparing a ‘complete’ permit application;” commit to having Building Official Dave Flemmings on site in Hood River two days per week instead of a typical one-day-per -week schedule; work with the city to establish video conferring capability between Hood River and Clair.

Builders made it clear, though, that twice-weekly presence is not enough, and called for four or five days’ across-the-counter presence, saying that talking face-to-face over red pen marks and blue prints is preferable to electronic spreadsheets and phone calls.

Council took a thorough look at a document prepared by Wheeler, titled “Building Codes Services — Considerations for Contract Administration,” that spells out expectations, services, and performance standards for Clair Company of Corvallis or anyone else who might perform the services under any of three main options being considered: A reformed city department, or contract with either Hood River County or another private contractor.

Wheeler’s document, informally termed “the page 18 memo” for its place in the June 25 meeting packet, will be used as the “basic statement of practices” for Wheeler to use in comparing the options.

Among the 10 or so Building Coalition members present, one member raised his hand to indicate interest in the seminar, and no one showed interest in video conferencing (which Wheeler said “staff believes funds can be found for”).

Wheeler noted that since 2009, prior to the Clair contract being issued, there has been no change in building department fees.

He also clarified that the recent ruling by the State Building Code Division used was based not on an Attorney General opinion, as has been reported, but on an “advice memo.”

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