County opts not to fill vacant inspector positions

September 28, 2011|By HEATHER KEELS |
  • Washington County Administrator Gregory B. Murray is shown in this file photo. Murray warned Washington County commissioners Wednesday that overscheduled inspectors could lead to project delays or, worse, overlooked safety hazards.
Herald-Mail file photo

Citing a declining workload as construction activity has slowed, the Washington County Board of Commissioners opted Tuesday not to fill vacant positions for a code inspector and a construction inspector.

The rejection by the board came despite arguments by Division of Public Works officials that the employees are needed and a warning from County Administrator Gregory B. Murray that overscheduled inspectors could lead to project delays or, worse, overlooked safety hazards.

The five commissioners were divided on how to handle the vacancies.

Commissioner Jeffrey A. Cline moved to fill both positions, but that motion died for lack of a second. Commissioner Ruth Anne Callaham then moved to fill only the construction inspector position, but that motion, too, died for lack of a second.

Both positions are vacant as a result of retirements and subsequent promotions within the Department of Engineering and Construction, said Robert J. Slocum, deputy director of public works.

The code inspector position is responsible for inspecting private-sector projects, while the construction inspector is responsible for inspecting work on the county's own projects, Slocum said.

Commissioner William B. McKinley questioned the need to fill the positions.

"At least what I've heard ... is we have very little going on out there in the building world, and with not that much attrition having occurred over the last couple of years in that area, why do we now need all the inspectors we can get, with so little money?" McKinley asked.

Slocum said the number of inspections per code inspector per day has dropped from about 20 in 2008 to about 17 now, but the inspections have become more complex due to increased state and federal regulations.

He also noted that according to the Insurance Services Office, which surveys more than 4,000 jurisdictions that conduct inspections, the standard is 10 inspections per inspector per day.

If the county fills the code inspector vacancy, its rate would fall to about 14 inspections per inspector per day — still about 40 percent higher than the standard, Slocum said.

The county currently has nine code inspectors, down from the 11 it has had in previous years, he said.

Murray noted that 17 inspections per day means an inspector must conduct two inspections per hour, with travel time and other duties also squeezed in.

"What we don't want to foster is an environment where people say ....,  'I see what you did there. I don't really have time to look into it ... because I have another inspection to go to, so I'm not going to pass it. You'll have to call me to come back later when it's finished,' ... or, on the other extreme, people saying, 'I have too much to do so I'm just going to pass it,' then you have safety issues," Murray said.

Meanwhile, the construction inspector vacancy leaves the county with only one construction inspector for county projects, Slocum said in a written report to the commissioners.

Filling that position is less expensive than funding an on-call construction inspector to fill in when a staff inspector is not available, Slocum wrote. The annual salary and benefits of a county inspector covers only seven months of services by an on-call inspector, he wrote.

Cline, who supported filling both positions, stressed that the goal is to supply better customer service to contractors.

Callaham noted that the positions were already in the budget and became vacant only due to retirements. When Cline's motion died, Callaham asked Slocum which position was more important, and Slocum responded that the construction inspector would save the county the most money.

After that motion, too, died, McKinley told Slocum he was "sorry it didn't work out the way you wanted it to" and suggested that he return in a month or so to update the commissioners on the situation.

The two positions have been vacant for about six to eight weeks, officials said.

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