Building permit jobs on line in Hillsborough

Published May 3, 2007

TAMPA - Employees in the county government office that issues building permits will have to wait at least two more weeks to learn if they will get pink slips.

Hillsborough commissioners told the administration Wednesday to come up with a plan to deal with a loss of building permit fee income caused by the falloff in residential construction.

Some commissioners expressed reluctance at increasing the charges for building permits on anything more than a temporary basis to make up the shortfall, fearing that will slow down construction further.

At the same time, some commissioners said they don't want to add to the time it takes to approve a permit and inspect ongoing construction if layoffs are made.

Hillsborough records show applications for residential building permits are down dramatically compared to the same period a year ago, while commercial construction remains robust.

The county's building services division runs on the fees collected for those permits and other services.

So far, fees are down 25 percent compared to a year ago and the division is projecting a $7-million deficit this year.

As a result, county officials are considering a range of options: layoffs, particularly among inspectors in the department; forced unpaid days off for employees, possibly by shutting down the permitting offices once every two weeks; and changing the fees for permits from a flat $55 for new homes to a range based on square footage.

The county is analyzing its fee structure, which is expected to result in more changes later.

Jennifer Motsinger, director of governmental affairs for the Tampa Bay Builders Association, told commissioners that her organization would rather pay higher fees than have to wait longer for permits.

"Please make sure whatever actions you do take don't affect our level of service, " she said.

In other action, Commissioner Mark Sharpe withdrew a proposal to build a new emergency operations center near the University of South Florida campus.

Sharpe said he wants to see first if he can secure pledges of state or federal help to pay for the roughly $35-million complex and hopes to bring the proposal back in a couple of months.

Bill Varian can be reached at 813 226-3387 or varian@sptimes.com.