In a move to save money, Spokane County’s Building and Planning Department will be closed Fridays starting the first week of May.
County officials said Thursday they negotiated a “memorandum of understanding” with two unions that represent employees in the department, which issues building permits, oversees development and inspects construction projects to ensure they meet safety codes.
The staff of 39 will go from working 37.5 hours a week to working 32 hours, and the office will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday. After May 4, no permits will be issued and no sites will be inspected Fridays “until further notice,” the county said.
“We’re hoping this is a temporary solution,” interim planning director John Pederson said.
The department funds staff through the fees it collects, and its revenue is 24 percent below last year.
The change drew criticism Thursday from the construction industry, which needs permits to begin projects and inspections almost from the projects’ start to finish.
“That is outrageous,” said Kate McCaslin, chief executive officer of Associated Builders and Contractors. “Do they think that the world just stops on Friday? They no longer operate in the real world.”
McCaslin said county officials held hearings recently before raising some fees, which the building industry supported. She asked why the county didn’t hold hearings before deciding to close offices one day a week. McCaslin served as a county commissioner from 1997 to 2004.
Pederson said there was no state requirement to hold public hearings on office hours. But the county did have to negotiate with the unions, whose contracts run through 2011. Those discussions, which were closed to the public, wrapped up earlier this week.
Because Tuesdays through Thursdays are taken up with “core business” issues such as county board or planning commission hearings, the choice was between Monday and Friday.
“Monday’s far busier,” Pederson said, but added, “There’s really no good day.”
McCaslin said the department should have considered cutting staff, not a day of service, or staying open every day but closing earlier in the afternoon.
“I wouldn’t be so perplexed if this was December or January. But to do this at the beginning of the prime construction season makes no sense,” she said.
Pederson said the department laid off 13 employees last year.
The memo of understanding with the unions continues through March 2010, but county officials will review it every month. If construction picks up, and along with it fees for permits and other services that will cover the costs, Friday hours could return sooner, Pederson said.