Contractors at odds with County

Department supervisors from the Yavapai County Development Services met with contractors from the Verde Valley on Wednesday to address conflicts that exist between the two.

The meeting was a follow-up to one held last month at the behest of County Supervisor Chip Davis following complaints about the relationship between county personnel and several contractors.

Development Services Director Ken Spedding led off the meeting by stating, "I will do what I need to do" to find solutions to the complaints voiced by the contractors.

"We all need to work together," Spedding said.

The contractors expressed their frustration with the department when it came to how it interacted with them.

Most of the complaints were directed toward the process the county uses to review and approve building plans.

"The problems are not so much with the inspectors in the field as with the front-end process," said Bill Bullard, of C&B Construction. "We feel like there is an adversarial relationship between us and those who review building plans."

"Too much weight is being put on the plan checking process," Bullard said. "People who have been drawing plans and building houses all of their lives are made to feel as though they suddenly don’t know what they are doing.

"We find comments being made to our plans that have nothing to do with the realities of building in Yavapai County. That needs to be changed," Bullard said.

Some contractors and plan drawers expressed confusion as to how much detail the county expected in each building plan that was submitted for review.

Their contention was that most of the details and omissions that were kicked back to them for correction were minor details that they assumed were understood to be part of the plan without having to be spelled out.

"It seems as though they are just exercising their power without any constructive purpose," Bullard said. "It seems as though it has become an in-your-face mentality.

"There is no mutual trust."

The problem, according to Spedding and Chief Building Official Larry Russell, is that the county has had to outsource 50 to 60 percent of its plan reviews to private companies due to their inability to hire qualified personnel.

"We currently have only one full-time plan checker in the Verde Valley and we are also understaffed in Prescott,’ Russell said. "We have openings for two more plan checkers and a senior plan checker right now."

Spedding said it has never been a policy of the county to hold up or delay the plan review process, and that the problem rests in the fact that outside contracted companies that review plans for the county use a generic review process.

"That review process they use is based on codes that apply to the entire state of Arizona and often codes that apply nationally and internationally, whether they have any practical application to our particular situation here," Spedding said.

"Perhaps, the solution rests in finding a way for the county to do an in-house review of the plans after they are received back from the independent contractors," he said. "That way we could have some oversight as to what corrections are being asked for.

"I’m open to improvement."

Yavapai County reviews around 100 sets of building plans each month, according to Spedding, and can have as many as 500 somewhere in the review process at any given time.

"I wish our scope was limited to just one area such as that within a city’s limits," Spedding said. "That would make our job so much easier. But that is not the case."

According to Russell, one of the key problems with keeping personnel is that the county does not pay what local communities can pay for plan checkers and other positions. The difference in pay can be more that $6,000 a year.

"It’s difficult enough to find qualified applicants, and they we have to deal with the competition among other government entities," Russell said.

Other issues dealing with onsite building inspectors came up in the discussion, but most of the dozen or so present stated that they felt the building inspectors were, for the most part, fair in the way they treated them.

"We have been giving our inspectors a whole lot more latitude in how they respond to changes they observe in the field," Spedding said.

"We realize we have to speed up procedures and these meetings are a step in the right direction," he said. "It is not our intention to hold up your projects."

The county also agreed to take steps to get information about changes in policies and procedures into the hands of those who are affected by the changes.

The plan to get out information will include publishing a regular building bulletin and posting notices in building supply stores, APS offices and other locations frequented by contractors.

The Department of Development Services is also publishing handouts that will enable builders to speedup the process of applying for building permits for small structures such as garden walls and patio covers.

"Instead of having to draw out each little structure, the builder will be able to designate that the plans call for building the structure to the specifications on the handout and attaching it to the permit application," Spedding said.

The meeting was slated to be the first of what will become a monthly meeting between the Department of Development Services and local contractors.

"This will be appositive step in correcting the problems," Spedding said.

All of those present at the meeting agreed to meet the last Wednesday of each month at 2:30 p.m. in the Verde Room at the county building at 10 S. Sixth St.

They also agreed that future meetings should be conducted in the same informal give and take manner in which Wednesday’s meeting was held.

"This meeting was 10 times better that the last one," Bullard said. "We’ll just see where this goes."

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