LIMA — The City of Lima’s building department would lose more than two-thirds of its annual operating budget if Allen County and others were to contract its inspection services with another municipality.
That possibility was raised following a recent visit to the Miami County building department by Allen County Commissioners Jay Begg and Cory Noonan, Shawnee Township Trustee Chris Seddelmeyer and Allen Economic Development Group CEO Jeff Sprague.
Begg said the Miami meeting initiated by Sprague was not meant to worry the City of Lima, but the visit was a fact-finding mission to understand the best way to do inspections.
“We may have done the conversations out of order,” Begg said. “But we will have those conversations with all parties.”
If Allen County were to cancel its contract with the City of Lima, Lima would lose roughly $500,000 worth of annual revenue from permit fees from commercial development outside of city limits. Harrod, Beaverdam, Elida and Lafayette would also need to identify a new source of building inspections.
The complaints against the City of Lima’s building department has a history tracing back to 2011 when Shawnee Township considered forming its own inspections department to reduce project approval times. But after the special task force fizzled out, Lima’s Director of Public Works Howard Elstro said he had not heard of any major complaints against the building department until Sprague and AEDG Director of Business Development Dave Stratton brought up the issue this past fall.
Elstro said his department decided to examine its metrics and increase communication between the building department and developers to better push projects forward as a result of those conversations. At some point near the turn of the year, Elstro said as much to Sprague.
“I understand what the Lima building department is saying, but that’s not what the businesses are saying,” Sprague said.
Sprague said developers have told him the City of Lima has not been clear in what’s required of business owners and professional engineers when they pass plans back and forth, and that has been slowing down the approval process.
Elstro, however, said the approval process is slowing down due to a lack of knowledge of building code by a subset of architects, engineers and other professional developers, and they’ve been working to better communicate to all parties involved in the building process what is necessary for approval.
Another point of contention brought up by Sprague is the way the building code is interpreted and how a solution to code negligence is found. Elstro said building code, although complex and often changing, is interpreted much the same way due to a lengthy certification process for inspectors and the availability of clarifying state resources.
After Allen County’s visit, Elstro said he contacted Miami County officials and determined the approval plan average turnaround time for Miami County is 14 business days compared to Lima’s nine business days average. The response time for requested inspections, he said, are equal.
Sprague still has concerns.
“Recently, I talked to people who do work in other counties,” Sprague said. “Like in Putnam County, they use the state for their reviews, and I’ve heard from people in Putnam County, it’s easier because they go to the state and get it done.”
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.