The city of Monroe received nearly half of the building permits it had anticipated for the entire year within the first quarter of 2017, prompting the city council to unanimously approve a staff request to make a part-time planning permit technician a limited full-time position until the high volumes are under control.
This move will help reduce overtime hours worked by current staff, and speed up application turnaround.
“My direction to them (current staff) is, ‘Just keep the permits moving, whatever it takes,’ ” community development director Ben Swanson said. “So they are just taking those files, and they are just stacking them. Nothing is getting filed (including) public information requests. We are not jeopardizing anything, we are not opening ourselves up to a lawsuit, but our timeliness isn’t quite there just because everything keeps getting pushed and pushed and pushed.”
Swanson said this year’s influx is mostly associated with residential housing. Major corporations, such as Pulte and D.R. Horton, are moving into the city to buy up large plats to turn into residential housing, he said.
Revenues from building permits this year were projected at $568,900, according to an agenda bill. Monroe has already taken in more than $272,000, or about $130,000 more than what was expected for the first quarter.
Monroe human resources director Ben Warthan told councilmembers those extra funds will be used to pay for expanding the part-time permit tech position.
“Development is supposed to pay for development,” Swanson said.
Planning department employees are currently working nights and weekends, Warthan said. Further, there is no one to fill an upcoming leave of absence scheduled by one staff member without expanding the part-time position.
“City staff is currently processing ten subdivisions that have or will result in approximately eight hundred (800) residential building permits,” according to an agenda bill. “These permits are in addition to a standard workload that typically includes attending Planning Commission meetings, tenant improvements, engineering permits, conditional use permits, variances and many other standard land use activities.”
Monroe Mayor Geoffrey Thomas said it is likely the boom will spill over into next year because many of the permits are for multi-year development projects, “unless there is a downturn in the economy.” City staff will watch permit levels throughout the summer, he said.
Councilmember Jim Kamp wondered whether a contractor would help cover the extra workload. Warthan said the city looked into the option, but there’s “just not people out there trying to do this contract work.”
The added hours will run the city roughly $36,982 more this year, Warthan said. The part-time employee is currently paid $24,104. The full-time job would cost $61,086, according to the agenda bill.
Councilmember Kirk Scarboro asked Warthan and Swanson about the financial implications of continuing to have current employees work overtime to keep up with incoming permits. Would the status quo add up to as much as it would cost to make the position full-time?
“Probably not, but I guarantee you the permit levels would suffer,” Swanson said. “Or there’s always another thing with the economy, is somebody can just look down the road and say, ‘I can go work for that jurisdiction and not work these crazy hours,’ and that’s the other thing you put yourself open to is them leaving, burning them out.”
Swanson said overworking employees is a real risk. He said he has solid staff members, and would like to retain them as long as possible.
Renewal of the new hire’s position would be contingent upon permit volumes staying high through next year, Swanson said. Applicants will be told that at this point the job is for about nine months of work, and renewal will be up for review after that. An ad is out now, and interviews will likely take place within the next month, he said.