Curry County Commissioners Wednesday approved fee increases Wednesday that include a 20 percent hike on building department fees and services.

The fees reflect the cost of doing business and affect structural, plumbing, manufactured homes and mechanical inspections, commissioners have said. They go into effect March 1.

“No fee increases have been requested since 2011, while the cost to provide these services grows yearly,” Building Inspector Richard Stauffer wrote in a two-page letter to the board. “Our department needs to put this increase in place and more closely scrutinize projected permit sales and overhead costs. It is our opinion that managing and monitoring these cost increases annually is more responsible than simply trying to forecast them (and forcing us) to ask for General Fund money to get us through a shortfall at the end of a budget cycle.”

The additional money would make improvements in how the department accepts permit applications, he said, noting that electronic submittal and plan review is more efficient. Other needs include replacing 11- and 12-year-old vehicles and expanding to provide daily inspections to the entire county.

“This has been very well received when I’ve talked with contractors,” he said. “To do this, we would need to hire another full-time multi-trade inspector.”

That would allow daily inspections instead of those done twice a week, as is done today and allow contractors to finish projects more efficiently.

Stauffer also wants to build reserve funds, which he says have been rolled into the general fund budget over the past few years, leaving the department with nothing in its budget.

“Our department is designed to run using restricted funds earned with permit sales,” he said. “(Cost) overages will have to be addressed with supplemental budgets asking for money from general funds to balance the budget.”

Those against the fees

Contractor Dave Bassett said increased fees could result in people building without permits — a situation that has plagued the county for decades and among the reasons the county hired a code enforcement officer earlier this fall.

“You cannot bludgeon citizens into compliance,” Bassett said. “They must see value in the process or will simply boycott it again in record numbers.”

Bassett, who worked for 24 years as the building safety director in Medford, 15 years in Josephine County and as deputy administrator of the state Building Codes Division, has also volunteered for the past 10 years on the county’s building safety program.

“Things like the 20 percent fee increases proposed by Rich and Clark are absurd,” he said, “indefensible and indicative of total ignorance of Oregon’s code system.”

Bassett suggested having the building inspector — and a qualified planning director or attorney familiar with state land use laws — report to a commissioner liaison, duties that were handed to county administrator when he was hired this year.

‘It’s not the fees …’

Contractors in the audience, however, didn’t complain about the fee increases — especially when it was pointed out that they do not pay salaries — but the hiring of Stauffer himself, saying he is unqualified to do the job and is getting trained to do it at the county’s expense.

“I really hate to criticize people,” Bassett said. “Except the truth must be told for the greater good of our citizens. Therefore, I am a whistle-blower.

“The current fees are just fine; it is the expense of Rich and his license enforcement ideas that are the problem,” he continued. “Your program is not working.”

He listed in a two-page letter to commissioners his grievances against Stauffer — and Schroeder for hiring him, saying the latter was pig-headed, irresponsible and also should be removed from his position.

Stauffer said he has 30-plus years experience in plumbing and mechanical work and is a state-certified and licensed building inspector.

“Let my plumbing and mechanical work for the last 30-plus years and how much I care about customer service stand for itself,” Stauffer said. “I care a lot about the people I deal with; I go out of my way to be friendly, helpful.”

He declined further comment.

Contractor Mike Hewitt echoed Bassett’s frustration.

“(Stauffer) is more interested in enforcing the building code by having me tell him who the unlicensed contractors are in Curry County,” Hewitt said. “He requested I give him my subcontractors (license) numbers. I don’t know who my subs will be. And I shouldn’t be asked that when I get bids. I see us going down a road …”

He added that now that he’s voiced his thoughts, he feels he will suffer reprisals when he requests permits for future projects.

Commissioner angry too

Commissioner Court Boice, too, said he was strongly opposed to Stauffer’s hiring, which was done by County Administrator Clark Schroeder and approved 2-1 by the board.

“I also wrote a letter to the Curry County community about why it’s a bad hire,” he said. “I was ignored. The amount we’re paying this individual compared to elected officials and others who have been here a long time — it’s $15,000 (more). And we have to train him and pay for that.”

Stauffer is paid $5,964 a month — $71,568 a year — plus benefits.

The issue, Boice said, is not of a personal nature, but based on principles.

“I was also against the decision of Commissioners (Tom) Huxley and (Sue) Gold to hold discussion on (Stauffer’s hiring) in executive session, after I challenged them to bring it to an open public meeting,” he said. “They refused, and I believe it was ultimately a way for them to hide their rationale for hiring someone with less-than-needed credentials and at a greater salary.”

Boice continued, saying that the county is paying for Stauffer’s training to qualify to test for structural, manufactured home, mechanical, commercial and residential plan review and has no fire, life and safety qualifications.

“Until these certifications are received, our cash-strapped county will have to outsource and pay additional funds for that work, as well.”

State records show Stauffer is a state licensed building official, a plumbing and medical gas plumbing inspector, holds an inspector certification and has eight of 24 continuing education credits toward his journeyman’s plumbing license.

Those who have conducted inspections on behalf of Curry County in the past have also held certifications in manufactured home installation, and post-earthquake, residential plans, structural and mechanical inspection licenses, state records show.

Boice said the issue is “simply a matter of getting the best bang for the dollar.”

He said he believes more cooperation between similar staffs, rather than increased fees or taxes, should have been considered — and he places the blame for this on his fellow commissioners.

“They opted against that economical, common-sense solution while hiding their reasoning in a board executive session,” Boice said. “ So much for the transparency they both campaigned on. I promised the citizens I would be on guard and looking to weed out lazy or nonproductive people in Curry County employment. Tom Huxley and Sue Gold are the only wasteful and nonproductive officials that I’ve witnessed.

“My issue is not with (Stauffer); it is with the way this entire matter has been handled.”