The Pasco County Commission is turning up the heat on its planning staff to get reviews done more quickly on planning and zoning requests.
They also are directing county staff to find ways to simplify the process — to avoid long delays as applications work their way through the system.
The comments came up during the board’s Oct. 25 meeting, where Commissioner Jack Mariano shared a videotape featuring Bob Koning, the director of the Contractors Institute, based in Hudson.
The videotape was recorded during a meeting between Koning, Mariano, County Administrator Mike Carballa and some other county staffers.
Koning said he’s been teaching inspectors and building code officials since the 1980s.
He said he believes that many of the complaints about building departments are a result of self-inflicted wounds.
“The building code, in Chapter 1 says, ‘Hey, these are the things you will submit plans, and those items will be reviewed by a plans examiner.’
“And that plans examiner will make notes of things they feel conflicts with the code.
“Plans examiners aren’t architects or engineers. They’re not to review calculations, or ask for calculations to be submitted.
“If you’re a plans examiner and you doubt something, ask it to be peer-reviewed.
“The plans examiner then approves those plans. Those plans then are stamped and are taken out to the field.
“The field inspector goes out there to see, in fact, what that plans examiner evaluated and approved, that it does in fact exist in reality,” Koning said.
The problem, Koning said, is that local government can amend and add more inspections — and that’s what Pasco has done.
“We’ve put a burden on our inspectors’ shoulders that we didn’t need to.
“Listen, there’s what the code says you check. There’s what you inspect. The rest is up to the builder,” he said.
If the builder isn’t doing it right, he can be sued, Koning said.
“We have inspectors out there measuring the shower slopes in the floor, for quarter-inch a foot — and stopping projects,” Koning said.
“Our duty, as code officials, is to see that items of public safety are done,” he added.
He thinks the county could improve its process by having a three-panel group of volunteers that works with the building department, to review items that are in dispute.
That would provide a speedy way to resolve issues, said Koning, noting he would be happy to be one of the volunteers.
“We really need to do a fundamental restructuring of what we’re doing here. Other counties have done it, with great success,” Koning said.
Mariano said the county needs to take action to address its backlog.
Commission Chairwoman Kathryn Starkey agreed, noting she’s been bombarded with calls about logjams in the process.
Carballa told commissioners: “I think we realize that we are working on a number of challenges that have been with us for quite some time.
“We recognize, as we move through things methodically, that there are areas of improvement.
“Clearly, safety and compliance with the code is of utmost importance.”
The issue, the county administrator said, is: “Who are we protecting from what? I think that’s the fundamental question we have to ask ourself.”
Mariano added: “We can make the changes, if it’s our rules. We can’t change SWFMD (Southwest Florida Water Management District) rules, which by the way, I think we should take a close look at what we’re inspecting because if SWFMD is doing stormwater, why am I doing it? Let’s not duplicate anything SWFMD is doing.”
Carballa responded: “I think we understand. Simplification. I get it.”
Commissioner Ron Oakley added: “That’s where we’re at.”
Pittos told the board that his department is working on a number of initiatives to streamline processes. It also is expanding staff and hours of operations, to take aim at the backlog.
Mariano said his criticisms are not aimed at individual staff members.
“This has nothing to do with people, personalities, effort, etc. It’s not any lambasting. Let’s go listen to an expert, who’s been doing it. Who has watched this county from way back when, that has great historical knowledge of how we used to do things.
“There’s great potential in our people. I just want to put you guys in the right position to succeed, because when you succeed, we succeed and our citizens are going to be happier,” Mariano said.
Starkey agreed: “If we can lessen the load on our staff just by doing things a little smarter, it’s better,” she said.
Carballa said: “The ultimate aim is efficiency. We definitely want it to be easier to do business in Pasco County and we’re committed to working on that.”
Published November 09, 2022