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Partnering for Efficiency in Community Development

Kyle Leonard — Hr Green, Inc.

In a non-descript municipal office hundreds of building plans sit atop, under and around a small desk gathering dust, stacks of files, bound copies and boxes full of loose papers are stacked where a chair should be located. The recently retired building commissioner saved everything. However, he’s gone now and the reality of his “filing system” became a cumbersome challenge the city had to deal with.

The recently retired building commissioner saved everything. However, he’s gone now and the reality of his “filing system” became a cumbersome challenge the city had to deal with.

The recently retired building commissioner saved everything. However, he’s gone now and the reality of his “filing system” became a cumbersome challenge the city had to deal with.

Therein lay the problem. After weathering nearly a decade of economic stagnation, the city had cut its staff to the core. Retired employees were not replaced and though the economy was slowly improving, there was no real action in hiring staff that may need to be cut once again should the economic roller coaster decided to dip.

It’s a scene playing out throughout the country in both small and large communities. However, more and more communities are finding a solution by looking at private partnerships to augment existing staff or even take over operations of certain government functions.

Groundbreakings on new homes surged 26.6% and permits to build new homes rose 30% in June, 2015 compared to one year ago, according to the U.S. Commerce Department. The upturn in building bodes well for the economy, however local governments continue to be under pressure to cut costs and do more with less. As new buildings are proposed and ground is broken, building review and inspections are needed now, and delays caused by a lack of staffing could mean builders may take their plans elsewhere.

More importantly, providing high quality building plan reviews, inspections and enforcing code requirements are essential for life safety, the general welfare of the public and promoting a positive image to developers. For this reason, local governmental agencies are taking Alternative Service Delivery (ASD) models into consideration as they look for ways to partner with the private sector to enhance service. A partnership allows for staffing to be added during peak times without incurring the costs of a full time employee who may not be needed as work load shrinks.

Three overriding reasons cause governments to examine the way they provide building plan review, building inspections and preconstruction services. Financial necessity is the most common impetus. Partnering with a private sector service provider is a tool that holds promise for increasing service efficiency and, ultimately, reducing government expenditures. Another rationale for such a decision is that it can be a practical way to periodically re-evaluate a government’s objectives and its effectiveness in accomplishing those objectives. Finally, governments may consider partnering as a way to become more competitive with neighboring jurisdictions. If a county is not in a regional cooperative arrangement, for example, it will be competing with other counties to achieve economic growth. Efficient and effective service delivery may attract businesses and residents, and a partnership can be a tool to achieve this end.

A cooperative approach to code enforcement can be time consuming and labor intensive, but is essential in balancing the needs of a struggling business and the safety and welfare of a community’s citizens.
To prevent code violations from becoming an overwhelming issue, code enforcement must become a priority for city governments. This amounts to more than simply issuing citations. For instance, code violations can be a function of a lack of understanding on the part of the property owners. Best practices often dictate adopting innovative programs that engage in proactive, and sometimes aggressive, enforcement that involves all stakeholders in the community.

A cooperative approach to code enforcement can be time consuming and labor intensive, but is essential in balancing the needs of a struggling business and the safety and welfare of a community’s citizens. With strong, proactive, and aggressive enforcement, some disgruntled community members may emerge. It is up to the community leaders to take their feedback, and adjust enforcement practices accordingly. The Code Enforcement officials should work closely with local politicians (i.e. boards, planning authorities, councils, etc.) so together they can meet with the community and create real solutions that satisfy the needs of the city and its citizens.

Yet, dealing with a problem before it grows is more efficient than acting later. Code Enforcement Officials should team with the building inspectors to monitor residential construction. This team approach provides an effective means to identify construction that is occurring without permits as well as address expired construction permits. Construction without permits is not only dangerous but can also hinder the home owners by making their home uninsurable as the work completed may not be up to code. Builders may make changes after code inspections that can be significant and dangerous. Home inspectors can report back, and alert code enforcers, about builders who should be closely watched.

Elected and appointed officials have the same goal: to ensure a satisfactory delivery of essential services. But what defines satisfactory?

Four metrics can be set:

  • Delivery: Was it fair and did it achieve its goal?
  • Timely: Did it start on time, was a quick resolution found and did repeated requests for action need to be made?
  • Communication: Was interaction accurate, clear and concise?
  • Personality: Were staff polite, sympathetic and friendly?

To deliver on the customer promise, public sector organizations must build a “connected government”, seamlessly aligning multiple government departments. Managers need to ask themselves if this is truly feasible within their organization or determine if an outside firm can help them to deliver the results needed more efficiently and at a lower cost. By integrating building plan review, building inspections and pre-construction services, instead of distributing these duties among several departments, an increase in efficiency and customer service may be found. Potential challenges identified in plan review can be a focus during pre-construction discussions and again during inspections.

A private sector partner can bring the proper expertise to each step of a project, be flexible and proactive in dealing with clients, and improve communication and coordination. By engaging in such a partnership the existing staff in a department can concentrate fully on their own areas of expertise raising the efficiency level of the entire municipal organization.

To learn more about how we can assist your community, contact Frank Urbina at 815.759.8389 or e-mail him at furbina@hrgreen.com

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