LIMA — The first time Allen County Commissioners met with Lima Building Department officials back in March, the two groups agreed there was a perception problem.
After news broke that Allen County and Allen Economic Development Group were exploring the possibility of establishing a regional building department through Miami County, the two groups agreed that there is a communication problem.
“When you say for the past six months there’s been no communication, you’re right,” Commissioner Jay Begg said to Lima Public Works Director Howard Elstro. “But I think we hold the contract.”
Elstro and the majority of Lima’s building department met with Allen County Commissioners Thursday morning to make the case that the building department has been making efforts to improve its customer services. During the brief session, Elstro presented a white paper to commissioners outlining his points, but even that was a case of conflicting narratives.
In the paper, Elstro said the purpose of the meeting was to “address the apparent intentions of this legislative body to end a 40-year-relationship that Allen County and the surrounding townships have had with the Lima-Allen County Building Department.”
Begg’s response: “Somewhat, I take umbrage with the way he lays things out. We never have expressed any intent to do anything yet, but we are doing due diligence to finding out what our options can be.”
At the heart of the matter has been a series of conversations begun by Commissioner Greg Sneary and AEDG President/CEO Jeff Sprague with “various political subdivisions” throughout the region — many off-record — about a Miami County-supervised building department. Elstro said he first heard of these discussions roughly a week ago and was not aware the county still had concerns about the building department’s quality of service.
Nor did Steve Cleaves, who was appointed this past April as a liaison between the City of Lima and AEDG to hammer down any issues the business community may have had moving permits through the city’s building department.
“There were a couple of issues that cropped up, but they were resolved,” Cleaves said.
“I don’t know what Cleaves and Sprague have been talking about. That hasn’t been expressed from either side to us. We’re still hearing problems. I’m sure we’ll always hear problems no matter who we contract with. But I think the ball has been in your court to keep this contract, and you assumed everything’s hunky dory,” Begg said. “And I don’t think that’s the case.”
“We would be more than glad, if commissioners wish, to give monthly updates of our progress,” Elstro responded.
Meanwhile, Miami County continues to prepare information about a potential building department expansion. The group will be presenting to the Allen County Township Trustee Association during its December meeting. Putnam County also has plans to discuss a potential regional building department after Putnam County Commissioner Michael Lammers met with an AEDG official back in September. Richard Osgood, director of the Miami County Department of Development, said Van Wert County is also involved.
“We need to have this conversation,” Begg said. “We should have had this conversation five months ago, and then four months ago, three months ago. We should have known what your plans were going forward all along not here today.”
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.