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Community Development staff earns kudos from commissioners

(Photo: Jim Brown, director of Chelan County Community Development, speaks before the Board of County Commissioners on Oct. 5. The Community Development staff joined Brown at the meeting, when commissioners honored the department.)

 

Before a crowded room of Community Development employees, Chelan County commissioners on Oct. 5 praised the staff for catching up on its permit backlog in a year marred by staff shortages and big community issues.

“We recognize that you are under staffed, you’ve got a tremendous influx of issues coming from every single direction … and that you are handling it with tremendous poise and professionalism and just a positive attitude,” Commissioner Bob Bugert said to the crowd. “You are the behind-the-scenes folks who really get things done.”

“I’m seeing smiles on people’s faces that I haven’t seen in the past,” Commissioner Kevin Overbay said. “That is a testament to an organization where you’re seeing teamwork, you’re seeing good leadership and you’re seeing folks who are invested in what they do.”

The kudos come six months after Community Development requested the public be patient as it was dealing with 350 open building applications. The process was taking, in some cases, more than 90 days. A new state energy code and rising costs in materials caused a rush of permit applications to the department that is already understaffed.

Today, that backlog is gone. The wait time for a building permit has been cut to an average of 14 days, or about 40 building permits being reviewed at a time, said Jim Brown, Community Development director.

“Our ultimate goal is improving the speed of the process for our customers,” Brown said.

Meanwhile, the department continues to see record-breaking numbers of building applications. At the end of September, Community Development had received 819 building permits. That’s compared to 703 for a similar period in 2020.

In 2018, Community Development received the most building permit applications it has in the last nine years. At the end of September 2018, the department had received 800 building permits, still less than what the department has received so far this year. It appears the department will set a new record for 2021.

“Last year was a record for the planning case files and we’re on track to exceed that by 25 to 30 percent,” Brown told commissioners last month.

Encouraging electronic applications, changing in-office procedures, removing unneeded steps in the permitting process, and hiring an outside contractor to help with the deluge has helped the department get back on track. In addition, the department has crossed off a few large projects on its must-do list, including the completion of the Shoreline Master Plan Update and the Critical Areas Ordinance; the establishment of the short-term rental division; and moving the code enforcement division to the Chelan County Sheriff’s Office.

On the planning side, Community Development at the end of September had received 405 planning permits. Brown expects that number to be closer to 500 at the end of the year. In comparison, in 2020 the county received 474 for all of 2020.

Local planning permits are impacted by a regional shortage of experienced planners available for hire, Brown explained. With 32 positions in all divisions within Community Development, the department has eight open positions, including four in the planning division. “It has a cascading effect on the process,” Brown said.

Brown expects to ask for additional funding in the upcoming 2022 budget workshops that will be used to pay for at least one contracted planner who would complete some of the simpler planning applications, such as boundary line adjustments.

At the recognition, Brown, who has hired just over a year ago as director, was praised for his leadership by both commissioners as well as his staff. But he put the praise back on his staff.

“I can create the stepping stones for people to start climbing into a different place, but it is up to them to actually figure out how that works for them and whether they are going to be a part of that change,” Brown said to the room. “I think I can say, without hesitation, staff has really risen to the challenge.”

Last Updated: 10/11/2021 12:38 PM

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  • 17
    Nov 2021
    09:30 AM - 10:30 AM

    Public Meeting: Public Canvassing Board Meetings

    Posted by: Chelan County Elections

    The Canvassing Board of Chelan County, pursuant to RCW 29A.60.160, will hold public meetings at the dates and times listed below. The meetings of the Canvassing Board are open, public meetings under the applicable provisions of chapter 42.30 RCW, and each meeting shall be continued until the activity for which the meeting is held has been completed.

    Chelan County Auditor’s Office
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    Nov 2021
    01:00 PM - 03:00 PM

    Hearing Examiner - November 17, 2021

    Posted by: Community Development

    By Zoom Video Conference
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    November Parenting Class - English and Spanish 13

    Posted by: Superior Court Clerk

    Supporting Children Through Divorce is a four-hour educational program designed to help parents focus on the needs of their children during and after divorce and separation.

    Washington State University Extension
  • 10
    Nov 2021
    09:30 AM - 10:30 AM

    Public Meeting: Public Canvassing Board Meetings

    Posted by: Chelan County Elections

    The Canvassing Board of Chelan County, pursuant to RCW 29A.60.160, will hold public meetings at the dates and times listed below. The meetings of the Canvassing Board are open, public meetings under the applicable provisions of chapter 42.30 RCW, and each meeting shall be continued until the activity for which the meeting is held has been completed.

    Chelan County Auditor’s Office
  • 05
    Nov 2021
    09:30 AM - 10:30 AM

    Public Meeting: Public Canvassing Board Meetings

    Posted by: Chelan County Elections

    The Canvassing Board of Chelan County, pursuant to RCW 29A.60.160, will hold public meetings at the dates and times listed below. The meetings of the Canvassing Board are open, public meetings under the applicable provisions of chapter 42.30 RCW, and each meeting shall be continued until the activity for which the meeting is held has been completed.

    Chelan County Auditor’s Office