Marietta to continue contract on building permits

Members of Marietta City Council’s planning, zoning, annexation and housing committee on Thursday agreed to extend a contract with Washington County to handle residential building permitting within the city for at least one more year.

The current five-year contract expires Dec. 31 and, if the county agrees, will continue in its present form through 2014.

But committee members expressed some concerns about the current arrangement, and within the first six months of next year, hope to make some changes to the contract if it’s extended beyond 2014.

“We need to see more reports from the county about the city permits they’ve issued,” said Councilman Steve Thomas, D-3rd Ward.

And Councilman Tom Vukovic, D-4th Ward, said he was concerned that the city may not be getting the level of service expected since turning the permitting process over to the county.

He said after contacting the county permitting office about some complaints by constituents in his ward he received no response at all.

City engineering office manager Tina Lones said when the county does not respond to complaints from city residents related to the permitting code, those calls tend to be re-routed into the engineering department.

“And the engineering office cannot provide code enforcement,” she said.

Thomas said the county permitting office does not generate income by providing code enforcement.

“So they don’t pursue enforcement,” he said.

Reading from the current contract, Vukovic said the county office is responsible for enforcing violations of the property permitting code.

The city may take on that responsibility as council and the administration are currently considering the development of an enforcement official position after council recently updated the city code to include the 2012 version of the International Property Maintenance Code.

In the meantime Vukovic said the county should be providing that service as part of the current permitting contract.

Council president Walt Brothers noted there had been some discussion earlier this year about bringing the residential permitting process back under the city’s control, but it was determined that move would prove too costly.

Charlotte Keim, executive director of the Marietta Area Chamber of Commerce, who also attended Thursday’s session, said the chamber office had received no negative comments about the permitting process since the county took it over.

“Before the contract went into effect we received many, many negative comments from people who were confused and frustrated with the process,” she said. “Now we’ve even received some positive comments. And the chamber likes the effort to consolidate (city and county permitting services) because we believe it’s saving taxpayer dollars.”

Planning, zoning, annexation and housing committee chairman Roger Kalter, D-1st Ward, recommended extending the current permitting contract with the county for a year, and then focus on making any changes to a future contract within the first six months of 2014.

The other committee members agreed.

In other business Thursday, Main Street Marietta director Jean G. Farmer asked why legislation approving an application to establish a revitalization district in the downtown area was tabled after a second reading during the Oct. 3 city council meeting.

Charles Sommer, owner of the property currently occupied by The Original Pizza Place on Second Street, filed the application with the mayor’s office Sept. 9.

The boundaries of the proposed revitalization district would encompass approximately 108 acres in the downtown and Harmar areas, and would qualify the city for up to 15 new liquor licenses for restaurants that locate within the district.

But the proposal has met with opposition from current liquor license holders that would also be located within the district’s boundaries. They say the city cannot support more restaurants and the new DL5 liquor licenses would devalue their permits for which they paid much more than the $2,344 required for the DL5 licenses.

Restaurants obtaining the new permits would have to generate at least 75 percent of their business from food sales.

Farmer and Keim believe establishment of the state-sanctioned revitalization district would not only bring more restaurants to Marietta, but it would also provide a much-needed boost to the downtown area economy.

Vukovic said the legislation was tabled after the second reading last week because he wants to give the community plenty of time to comment on the proposed revitalization district.

By law council has until Nov. 25 to make a decision on the matter, and Vukovic said the third reading and final vote would be taken during the Nov. 21 meeting.

Also on Thursday, Marietta Fire Chief C.W. Durham requested permission to hire, at least temporarily, a replacement for fire Lt. Rodney Scott who is on leave from the department due to military service.

He said the hiring could help save the department around $13,000 a year in overtime costs while Scott is on leave.

Durham added that, once Scott returns, if the city would keep the new hire on he could reduce fire department overtime even more by going from the current 10-man crew per shift to 11-man crews.

Thomas, chairman of the police and fire committee, asked Durham to meet with assistant safety-service director Bill Dauber to work out the costs of the hiring and then report back to the committee.