Bay council discusses building department
By Cassandra Favre, Staff Writer
Nov 11, 2016, 17:20
The Bay St. Louis City Council on Tuesday held a workshop and received input from the public and local contractors about the city's building department services.
Council President Lonnie Falgout said the council is looking at any cost-saving measures it can.
Ronnie Artigues Sr. said he has spent many years building houses and small commercial structures in Bay St. Louis and that the city's "building department offers as good a service as there is on the coast."
Artigues described the department's employees as "cooperative" and said they review plans in a timely manner.
Garrett Garcia of Garcia and Sons Development LLC, agreed with Artigues and added that the employees in the city's building department are knowledgeable, especially about the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
"My biggest concern with actually privatizing this is getting somebody in that knows what they're looking at with FEMA," Garcia said. "Now with the new building codes, we're not building like we were."
Garcia said the people in the city's department "know what they're looking at," including requirements and what can be done.
FEMA audits the building department, Garcia said.
"If you get a bad audit, insurance costs go up," he said. "The price of flood insurance on these people building on the beach is more than their taxes. We start messing with that, than we have big issues. That would be my main thing too. Someone needs to be knowledgeable and accredited. If we do open it up, they need to know what they're talking about with FEMA. Otherwise, you start letting builders build everything. They can build it, but when FEMA comes to audit it, the city suffers."
Bill Carrigee of Carrigee Consulting LLC addressed the council and spoke about the questions circulating about "some being certified and some not being certified."
"Certification is not an easy process," said. "Unfortunately for all of us here, the older we get, the tougher it gets. We've been out of school for a little while. Not everybody can do it. Just because somebody doesn't test well doesn't mean they don't know what they're doing."
Carrigee said he thinks everyone in the building department is "doing the best they can."
Falgout said said one of his main concerns is the influx of commercial activity and ensuring the developers "do it right."
Carrigee suggested the council get someone who is capable of doing plan review.
"You can take it to an engineer for structural design," he said. "If you're looking at somebody to look at it for code, the engineer's not the one to go to. You need to go to a code compliance officer."
Carrigee said once the engineer reviews the plans, all the building department would need to do is make sure the plans are followed.
Otis Bounds said he agreed with Carrigee, but said the city needs to "upgrade our building department and put some knowledgeable people in there." Bounds referenced Carrigee's tenure in the building department and said even though he didn't always agree with Carrigee's answers, Bounds said he knew Carrigee was "always right."
"If I get an answer now, you better go look it up because it's probably wrong," he said. "Either upgrade the building department or keep the bunch you got off the beach."
Ron Thorp said he was at the meeting where the city of Waveland voted to privatize its building department.
Thorp said the aldermen were pleased with the privatization of the building department because they said it eliminated the phone calls, took the pressure off of them and took the politics out of the building department.
"It saved the city a lot of money," Thorp said. "If you heard all the people that came up here, the one thing they said is,'if you're going to privatize it, have someone that is good.' So we can save money, have it privatized and have a good person in there."
Councilman Bobby Compretta said, from what he's heard, he doesn't think the council needs to fix anything that's not broken.
Compretta said he agreed with Carrigee.
"If we have a problem with a commercial building, bring in a third party and have them inspect it," Compretta said. "I'm not in favor of changing anything."
Councilman Mike Favre said every year since he's been in office, the council has not balanced a budget and continues to borrow money every year.
"I was told my very first year to bring something to the table, so I did," Favre said. "I said let's look at outsourcing. Throughout time, we have looked at outsourcing things, good or bad, whether you like it or don't like it."
Favre said the council can't keep borrowing each year and needs to look at cuts and outsourcing instead of raising taxes.
Councilman Joey Boudin said he isn't ready to commit either way and hasn't seen any proposals from people who are both qualified and interested in the job.
"Nobody can say they haven't had problems with the building department because we hear it all year long," Boudin said. "The main problem we hear is inconsistent treatment."
Boudin said he knew of a resident in Ward 6 who waited three weeks for his building permit.
"We've heard from three contractors in town, all reputable, and if they say the building department is doing a good job, it may be for them," Boudin said. "But we've heard from a lot of people throughout the year that don't feel that way."
Councilman Doug Seal said, "it goes back to the budget."
"People hate numbers, but they're facts," he said.
Seal said that in 2000, the budget was about $7.5 million and in 2016, the budget was also about $7.5 million.
"If you had not gotten a pay raise in 15 years, could you still maintain the living status you do today?" Seal said. "Probably not. You got rid of your cell phone, TVs and probably kept the electricity because you needed it. That's where the city's at. We are getting rid of everything we can, but now we're ready to start turning the lights out, getting ready to start doing the hard things if we don't increase revenue or decrease spending."
Falgout said he shares Seal's sentiments and would like to see a more streamlined process.
"We need to come up with a one-stop shop," Falgout said. "The biggest thing I see is that we are on the verge of a commercial boom in this town. There's a lot of projects coming in here and we need to be prepared for it. Is that a knock on the building department? No, it's not. We need to be prepared for it."
Joan Coleman asked council members if they have anyone reaching out to bring business into the community. She said there are a lot of large and medium box stores that could come in.
"I'm saying put on your positive hat and go out there and reach for that business," she said. "Instead of trying to create your expenses to match the revenue top line, try to increase the revenue top line to continue to supply the services. That means maybe there is one person that is designated or hired to start reaching major or middle-class corporations to come into our city limits with a business."
Falgout said members are proactive and do reach out and meet with developers when contacted.
Coleman said, "well you just said it, they call you. I'm asking you to call strangers" and contact the corporations to look at things.
Falgout said they do and said that city employee Paula Fairconnetue does that.
Seal said more restaurants could move in downtown.
"Do I think my sales tax will increase?" Seal said.
It probably won't, he said, and just building more "stuff" for the same people to shop will not increase the revenue.
"I need to spread out and get something different that I don't have to get more people to come shop in Bay St. Louis," Seal said.
During his discussions with big business owners, Carrigee said many of them say, "you ain't got enough people."
"We're growing again," he said. "The city's getting bigger all the time, people are coming in. We'll get there. It's a tough hard road to get someone to invest millions of dollars when there's not enough people to support it."
Carrigee also told the councilmen that they need to "work on getting their flood levels down."
"There's a way to do everything," he said. "But everybody we've talked, every time we ran the numbers, it was all about there's just not enough people to support it. As soon as we get the amount of people up, then we'll be able to do something like that."