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Date of Issue: March 08, 2008

Anna Maria building official lobbies for full-time job

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Bob Welch

While Anna Maria is saving about $50,000 a year by outsourcing its building official position and paying for just part-time help, it’s not really getting the maximum level of service, current building official Steve Gilbert told city commissioners at their Feb. 28 meeting.

Gilbert, who works for Causley Inc., told commissioners during his 30-minute presentation he’s been averaging 25 hours per week on the job in Anna Maria since the city hired Causley in June 2007, to replace Kevin Donovan. That’s five hours more per week than originally estimated in the city’s contract with Causley. That contract is for $52,000 annually based upon a 20-hour work week.

“We’ve kept up,” said Gilbert, but there are a number of “additional responsibilities” as building official for a barrier island, and he’s not positive the city is getting the full benefit available with a full-time official.

Commissioner Dale Woodland, backed by Commissioner Duke Miller, interjected to ask Gilbert to “cut to the chase.

“Where are we going with this?” he asked.

It’s about level of service, Gilbert responded.

Operating programs such as the city’s community rating system that is part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s flood plain insurance system to obtain lower premiums for city property owners benefit everyone, he said, but require an enormous amount of time.

At the risk of being redundant, said Miller, “Cut to the chase. Are you saying that if it was upped to a full-time position you could do all of this?”

“That’s what I’m saying,” replied Gilbert. A full-time official could “take care of all the activities here.”

To offset some of the cost of a full-time official, Gilbert, in conjunction with Mayor Fran Barford, presented a proposed new fee schedule for building official services, including increased costs for permits, plans review and inspections.

Under state law, all the additional revenues generated by increased fees cannot go directly to pay for a building official, but some can. And it’s time the city revised its fees, added Barford.

In effect, it costs the city more to inspect a building than the $75 permit fee, said city treasurer Diane Percycoe. “The city is losing money.”

While commissioners were in general agreement, Woodland said he needed some hard numbers to decide on the level of service. That means examining the issue at at least one worksession.

“We think this is what we need to do,” said Barford. “Let’s implement these fees now, then come back with a recommendation on full-time or part-time.”

Commissioners agreed and directed city attorney Jim Dye to prepare a resolution authorizing the commission to increase the permit fees. Dye said the resolution will be ready for the commission’s March 13 worksession.

“We will definitely need justification,” added Woodland, after Dye pointed out that any fee increase usually causes a “ripple effect” in a community.

The move comes eight months after Barford dismissed Donovan in what was then termed a “cost-saving” measure.

But the city will still not have to pay any benefits to Causley for a full-time official. Additionally, the increase in fees should offset the additional hours.

“It was time to re-examine the department,” said Barford. “The need there is very apparent and the fees are just not accurate. The city is losing money” on many building official services, she observed.

In other business, city auditor Ed Leonard gave the city a clean bill of health for its 2006-07 audit, noting his firm gave Anna Maria the highest possible rating. “The city is in a good financial position,” he concluded.

 Commissioners also decided not to change the language of one phrase in the current comprehensive plan that is awaiting final approval from the Florida Department of Community Affairs. The language involves a definition of “one lot per structure” in the retail-office-residential section of the future land-use element.

After comp-plan facilitator Tony Arrant indicated that to change the comp-plan language now would likely cause another 10-month delay in obtaining final DCA approval, commissioners agreed to put a definition in the land development regulations when they are revised after comp-plan approval.

“You want to deal with this locally, not in Tallahassee,” Arrant, who is based in the state capital, assured commissioners.

The commission also stumbled on whether to require that amendments to the comp-plan require a supermajority (four) approval.

Arrant said the easiest procedure to adopt this would be to put it into the hands of the charter review committee. If the committee recommends adoption and the commission agrees, the measure would then have to be approved by the electorate.

The commission also approved a motion to increase the city’s line of credit to $1.5 million, although the city will not use the money at any time in the near future. The funds are being used to pay for stormwater drainage improvements. Under a Southwest Florida Water Management District grant, the city will be reimbursed by Swiftmud for 50 percent of the cost of these projects, but only after the city pays the full amount.