Following the City of Marco Island’s recent decision to move the building inspection services division and its inspectors to Collier County, the Marco Eagle published an article on May 25, 2012, entitled Contractors Raise the Roof on Marco Island city manager’s decision to move inspectors to Naples. After reading the article, it is apparent that many residents may have some unanswered questions. As the former Community Development Director for the City of Marco Island between the years 2006 and 2010, I may be able to provide some additional information and clarification.
During my tenure with the City, the Building Services Division was organized as a division of the Community Development Department and funded as an “enterprise fund”. That is to say that it was a self-sustaining account, funded through the collection of building permit and inspection fees in accordance with the City’s adopted and published fee schedule.
As of September 30, 2008, the fund balance was approximately $2,014,186. Budgeted expenses in the FY 2009-2010 budget were approved at $1,154,418 and income was projected to be $640,000 in permit fees, and $30,000 in interest. In other words, the Division was budgeted to spend $484,418 more than it was projected to receive in revenue. Although the Building Services Division had amassed a sizable operating surplus during earlier years of high construction and permitting activity, the fund was declining steadily as a result of the recession and subsequent downturn in construction activity.
The Building Services Division was using its reserve balance to fund its expenses. This was an untenable position and it was clearly obvious that expenses would need to be reduced and revenues would have to be increased. A vacant building permit clerk position was left unfilled; one building inspector was temporarily assigned to the Public Works Department; the “administrative overhead allocation” was reduced; and the permit fee schedule was increased. Additionally, it was also recommended that a second permit clerk position that became vacant through attrition be left unfilled for FY 2010. These measures would slow the rate of deficit spending and it was hoped that the economy would improve to a point in the future where layoffs would not be necessary. However, in case the economy were not to improve in time, a contingency plan was developed. Additional options that were being considered and discussed with the city manager in late 2009 and early 2010 included layoffs, reduction in hours, reduction in pay, and privatization of the building services function using a framework that was being employed by the City of Bonita Springs at the time.
The recently published article in the Marco Eagle states, “Riviere said before his time as city manager, Community Development Director Steve Olmsted promised to cross-train inspectors rather than compartmentalize them into their respective fields. Riviere said he didn’t make good on that promise. Olmsted was fired one week after Riviere became city manager”.
It is true that I had suggested that the building inspectors could be cross-trained. However, during my discussions of this concept with City Council during budget hearings, I had recommended cross-training in the field of code enforcement to allow building inspectors facing a reduced workload to provide needed assistance in the code enforcement division of the Community Development Department. At the time, code enforcement officers were experiencing increasing demands related to the growing number of property foreclosures in the City of Marco Island. As an alternative to the hiring of an additional code enforcement officer, I suggested that it would be a wise use of resources to ask the underutilized building inspectors to provide the needed assistance in the field of code enforcement. Contrary to the statement in the published article, cross-training was provided by both the code enforcement officer and the code enforcement supervisor. The inspectors did begin code enforcement duties, and they were, in fact, particularly helpful in reporting building site and property maintenance violations. If additional cross-training was expected or desired, that was never expressed by anyone including the staff, chief building official, or city manager. I left the City of Marco Island over two years ago and, as “Sailingby” has wisely observed, if any additional cross-training had been required, it could have been provided in the period after my departure between April, 2010 and the present. If I am not mistaken, the Building Services Division was reorganized after I left and has subsequently been reporting directly to the city manager.
I hope the additional information that I have provided helps to answer some of the lingering questions. I have pleasant memories of my years with the City of Marco Island. I do not return often, but my wife and I did recently enjoy a fantastic evening at CJ’s and found it to be a memorable occasion in the remarkable setting that I fondly remember.
May 29, 2012