City building permit process red-flagged

New coalition criticizes permit contractor, calls for county partnership

A newly-formed contractors group is calling for consolidation of building permit services between the City of Hood River and Hood River County.

Realtor Greg Colt spoke at Monday’s City Council meeting for the newly-formed Hood River Builders Coalition, made up of 40 local builders, developers and property owners.

“What we are asking at this time is for you to meet with the county administrator and county building officials and open up a dialogue regarding a county administered city building department,” Colt said.

“We hear you, we know what you are talking about,” Blackburn said Monday after Colt spoke. “We are working very hard on it now, and going with the county is one option.”

Since 2008, the city has contracted with the Corvallis-based Clair Co. for its building permit review, but Colt presented a letter highly critical of the company’s performances.

“We are done with Clair. Clair provides building services for 18 other jurisdictions throughout the state. They are too busy for us,” Colt said. “When plans are submitted, they go to the bottom of a very large pile below plans for 18 other jurisdictions.

“We have heard the argument that the county’s broke and cannot financially support the added burden of the city’s building needs. We say nonsense to this,” Colt said. “The funds collected from permits and fees do not go into the county general fund … but rather is a separate and self-sustaining fund,” Colt said.

“In the past, individuals in this new coalition have been in fear of retaliation for speaking up. Fear that their permits or projects would be in jeopardy if they complained. Well, now it has gotten to the point where we can no longer live with the status quo. Please meet with the county, they are open to it. Let’s bring our building department home,” Colt said.

“That is incorrect,” Clair vice president Dave Fleming said Friday of Colt’s claim about 18 other cities.

“Clair does provide services to a number of other jurisdictions, but Hood River reviews are taken in line with those other jurisdictions and handed as Hood River reviews to meet the time lines required by the state,” Fleming said. Asked about the increase from three weeks to six months assertion made by Colt, Fleming said, “The ‘six months’ does not recognize that permits go through a process in which they are routed through several city departments and require sign-off by all of those departments prior to issuance (of the permit).”

Fleming also said, “Inspection staff for Clair live in the Hood River area and are there on a daily basis.”

Meanwhile, a new state rule prohibiting municipalities from using third-party inspectors to administer local building programs could jeopardize the ability of cities and counties to spur housing and economic development, city advocates say. Under the temporary rule — expected to become permanent — cities and counties will be required to either hire a building official or cede their programs to a larger jurisdiction with a building official on staff, such as a county or the state.

So far, the state Building Codes Division has identified 14 specific cities and counties whose programs are up for renewal July 1 that may be out of compliance. More jurisdictions could be identified as division officials review their programs throughout the rest of 2018, said Jake Sunderland, a department spokesman.

Hood River is among these jurisdictions. Cities included are Astoria, Dunes City, Estacada, Florence, Josephine County, Lake County, Lakeside, Lebanon, and Lincoln City.

“Our approach is to work with the city and continue to provide the best service through the process deemed appropriate by the city,” Fleming said when asked how Clair responds to the pending change.

Mayor Paul Blackburn said the city is in touch with other cities “to talk about what approach we want to take. It might be a legal situation. We are contemplating joining a lawsuit (with other cities),” Blackburn said. “That might be the way we go, but we will try to resolve the situation with the state first,” he said. As to Clair’s performance, Blackburn said, “We were not looking to make a change until the state told us we might have to make a change.”

County Administrator Jeff Hecksel said, “The first step is the city has to decide what it wants to do, and if the city is interested in partnering, once we know what that might look like, the county is willing to sit down and see what it takes to make that happen.” Effective April 1, the Hood River County Building Department began issuing and administering all electrical and plumbing permits for Hood River County and the City of Hood River.

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