Make spot for permitting needs

By Steve Estes

As more and more sewer collection pipes go in the ground throughout the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater System service area, the time grows ever closer when property owners will have to start working their way through the county permitting system to hook their drains into the pipes in the street.

Permitting office officials have estimated that more than 7,500 permits will have to be pulled by property owners before everyone gets hooked into the central pipe that will flow eventually into the regional treatment plant on Blimp Road on Cudjoe Key.

Just last month, the Monroe Board of County Commissioners decided that establishing a temporary office, for probably four years or so, was an expense it didn’t want to take on, particularly when there is talk of the budget rising anyway this year by three percent or more.

But the proposal shouldn’t die, particularly when initial budget requests reveal that there is a proposal to add personnel to the building department to do exactly what the folks in the Lower Keys will need done in the coming years.

The setting of the county budget is in the infancy stages and we expect many changes before it gets final approval from the BOCC in mid-September. But it seems highly unlikely that at least some of the extra positions being requested by the building department won’t make it through to the final product.

Efficiency in the building department, or the extreme lack of such, has been an ongoing problem for longer than the current crop of administrators has been around. Constant complaints about the length of time it takes to pull the simplest of permits are the norm, not the exception.

When the housing bust hit Monroe County in the 2008-2009 time frame, after much of rest of the country, and shorter lived than most other places, the need for building permits took a nosedive. Thus we needed fewer personnel to accomplish the same job, even though efficiency didn’t rise.

But in the last year, requests for building permits has been on the rise again and the number of personnel available to fill those requests hasn’t risen proportionately. So we know we need more people anyway.

And if we have them, why can’t a couple of them be dedicated to serving the sewer hook up needs of those in the Cudjoe Regional?

In every other central collection system the county has developed in the last 10 years, property owners would have had to drive no more than 14 miles to reach a permitting office to apply for an pick up permits for sewer hook ups.

The way it is today, every property owner in the Cudjoe Regional service area, from Lower Sugarloaf Key to Big Pine Key, would have to drive a minimum of 16 miles to reach a permitting office. Depending on traffic that’s an average of 45 minutes at a minimum in drive time.

The further east the property owner lives,the longer the potential drive, until you reach Big Pine Key where the short distance to Marathon is 22 miles, the longer distance to Key West is 30 miles.

Our time is worth something. And we would like for that to be acknowledged.

Permitting offices are only open during normal business hours, the same time when most of us are working. Not only are we looking at longer drive times, but we’re also looking at a few hours lost from work to apply for the permits, and more hours to address any concerns, and then more hours to pick up permits.

When we get the extra personnel on board, at least one of them should be installed in an already county-owned facility somewhere closer to Big Pine than not and give residents the choice to make a shorter drive.

Even if we only get an intake desk where we can file applications, deliver clarification paperwork that always seems to be required, and pick up permits to begin our work, it’s something we deserve.

If our elected leadership is going to hire the people to handle our permitting needs, it makes sense to us to enhance our access to those people.

By putting a desk in a facility we already pay for the cost would be minimal to the county coffers, and perhaps we wouldn’t feel quite so bad about giving up our time to do something we’re required to do that can be made much easier for everyone.

We expect the process to be frustrating.

Driving an hour to be frustrated will only add to the frustration levels.

And we have nearly a year before things heat up. That’s plenty of time to figure out where to put the desk.

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