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Tornado, complaints cause County to consider operational changes

St. Charles County officials are considering the combining two divisions within county government that deal with building permits and inspections and its property maintenance code.

The changes are being made because of concerns about how the divisions worked in the aftermath of a tornado on Good Friday in 2013, county officials have said. The change also may be the results of rural area residents complaining last year to the council about property code enforcement by the Neighborhood Preservation Division regarding old barns and buildings.

A bill was introduced at the council meeting on July 11 that would reorganize the county’s Community Development Department by combining the functions of the Neighborhood Preservation Division and the Building Code Enforcement Division.  The combined divisions would become known as the Division of Building and Code Enforcement.

In a memorandum sent with the bill to the council, Michael E. Hurlbert, the county’s director of community development, recommended the reorganization “to increase efficiency, improve the services provided to the citizens of the county, and better manage and distribute the workload of the department.”

The present Building Code Enforcement Division provides a number of construction services ranging from building plan reviews, to issuing building permits, to construction inspections to enforcement of building codes. The Neighborhood Preservation Division enforces the county’s property maintenance code and deals with complaints and issues regarding tall grass, abandoned or derelict vehicles, deteriorating buildings and roofs, and commercial vehicles parked in residential areas.

If adopted, the bill would reduce the number of division directors from two to one and create a new government services representative division. The workloads of both divisions has gone down since 2006 when the divisions were separated.

Hurlbert said one joint division that handles building permit review and code enforcement is more common and increase efficiency.  He cited how the county dispatched inspectors from both divisions to evaluate the safety and integrity of buildings damaged during the tornado in 2013.  Each division maintained their own reports and didn’t share data, Hurlbert said.

“The lack of communication caused a duplication of sites visits, inconsistent assessments and general confusion,” Hurlbert noted in the memorandum. “Having one division with one director would, in the future allow similar projects to proceed more smoothly.”

Hurlbert said in an interview that he recommended the changes because of concerns about communications and efficiency not because of complaints about the Neighborhood Preservation Division’s handling of code enforcement issues. Hurlbert was not around when those complaints were made.  The former economic development director for O’Fallon, he was appointed the county’s director of economic development in June.

Last May, a large number of residents attended a council meeting voicing a litany of complaints about the Neighborhood Preservation District inspector’s enforcement of the property maintenance code. Some said they were given little time to correct possible code violations. One resident said a building on his property was boarded up and personal items were removed.

County Councilmember Joe Brazil [District 2] and other councilmembers were upset by the condemnation of some barns that were more than 100 years old and the written violation notices sent to residents.

The council approved a bill last September amended the code as it applies to the property zoned agricultural and rural areas making it less strict on barns, farm equipment, old buildings and lowered fines.  The bill also gave the Division of Building Enforcement a greater role in code enforcement.

 

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