Paonia shifts building services to private firm

By Tamie Meck

Paonia shifts building services to private firm | Paonia, building code,

Photo by Tamie Meck The Denver-based firm which Dan Reardon is a consultant, was selected to provide building services to the Town of Paonia.

Melissa Munoz and her husband moved to Paonia two years ago and began building a new home. Last year, their builder unexpectedly quit, Munoz told trustees during the Oct. 23 town board meeting. Soon after, the town building inspector was dismissed. "It really caused some anxiety when I became the general contractor," she said.

When Dan Reardon was hired as interim building inspector last winter, "I was so relieved," said Munoz. The professionalism between Reardon and the former building inspector "was night and day." Reardon offered guidance and identified structural errors that the builder missed and the inspector missed twice. While correcting the error proved costly, "We're grateful that he caught it."

Munoz was one of several citizens to address trustees as they considered shifting from an in-house building inspector to contracting those services. After comments and discussion, trustees voted to continue its contract with Denver-based Colorado Code Consulting, for which Reardon is a consultant. The town believes the move will increase consistency and professionalism in building services and provide a fix to many problems experienced with past building officials.

Former trustee Eric Goold listed several problems that occurred during his four years on council. Among them, a business owner who erected a sign approved by the inspector, then had to take it down at his expense; improper red-tagging of Paonia Cleaners; and Edesia Warehouse's functioning without proper permits, which, Goold noted, "took five meetings" to clear up.

"Every one of these very hot-button issues ... could have been helped greatly if there was a competent building inspector there who not only knew the Paonia code, but actually enforced it," said Goold. The town building inspector, he said, "has been consistent. Consistently bad."

Some speakers blamed the existing building codes, which former trustee Bill Brunner said "were enacted in haste when the West Elk Mine opened, for the problems." With no zoning laws, "Town Fathers were rightfully worried that there were going to be man camps set up on vacant lots in town." A lot has changed since then, he said.

"The reality is, building codes have not been in existence until Dan arrived," said Paonia building contractor Frederick Zimmer with Elemental Design & Build.

Zimmer, whose contract projects include the Silver Leaf co-housing development on Third Street -- the largest in-town project in recent years built from the ground up. The town's shift from "no codes to all the codes" is having a negative effect on citizens. "It's costing more money than it's ever cost to build in Paonia, because it costs more money to do it right."

Zimmer asked the town to find a way to allow Reardon to interpret the code when enforcement is not economically not possible, "... and let people do what they need to do."

The town will pay more to CCC than it's paid past building officials. The draft 2019 budget estimates a General Fund building budget of $56,925, including $3,050 for staff, $50,000 for contract services, and $2,500 in legal services. In the past, said town administrator Ken Knight, the position has paid $20,000-$25,000/year, excluding the cost of training, currently at between $4,000-$5,000, and work performed by the office staff, now largely covered by CCC. In the last year the town paid more than $4,000 in legal fees associated with the former building official.

Compared to in-house services, contracting means the town knows just what the building costs will be. Paonia is entering a period of "significant building activity," said Mayor Charles Stewart. Because the town can pass additional costs on, "in terms of budgeting, it's really good to know what it's going to cost us" and adjust costs accordingly.

Other problems with in-house services also arose. For one, it's a part-time position that can be difficult to fill. Reardon said he wasn't interested in the position because he can't afford to work part-time.

Keeping inspectors after investing in their certification has also proved costly. When inspectors quit, said Stewart, "which has happened frequently in recent years, the town is left without an inspector, and that is extremely problematic." If Reardon quits, gets sick or injured or goes on vacation, CCC will send another qualified inspector to fill in, he said.

Then there's the issue of Paonia's existing building code. Because problems have been identified within the code, citizens questioned what Reardon and CCC will enforce. "He is going to enforce the code," Zimmer told the board. "You have to decide what you want him to enforce."

Zimmer asked the board to do more than vote to continue the contract. "Don't let this be the whole conversation," he said. He asked the town to hold a forum, to include building professionals, and work to identify and solve the problems. He also asked that the board consider creating an intermediary set of building codes to refer to until permanent codes are in place.

Reardon concurred with Zimmer. "When town decides to update code, public input is real important, because it impacts the community."