St. Pete Beach reluctantly outsourcing building inspection | Beaches

ST. PETE BEACH — The city’s inability to hire a building official and building inspector since last November has now forced it to spend a total of $164,000 to hire two outside firms to provide inspection and plan review services through the end of the year.

The city’s longtime building official resigned in January 2022. At the time, the deputy building official became the interim boss, but that person is no longer performing inspections full-time, as he previously was, in order to handle the day-to-day duties of managing the Building Department as Building Manager.

The city continues to seek a permanent building official and building inspector.

“As a result, the city had to rely on further support from our contracted vendors to maintain work flows,” Community Development Director Michelle Gonzalez said.

She added that if the city can hire its own building official, “this person will be performing building inspections for the city full-time, thus reducing the support needed from our contracted vendors … While the staffing shortages are unfortunate, the funding that would normally be used to pay the salary for these positions is currently not being expended, which will help cover the costs.”

This issue arises at a time when the Building Department is experiencing an upsurge in activity. Gonzalez told commissioners that in fiscal year 2021, the department completed 65% more inspections and received 15% more building permit applications over the previous year. To keep up with demand, the city began contracting commercial inspection services to M.T. Causley, whose parent company is Safe Built.

In addition to performing commercial building inspections, Safe Built is also assisting the city with plan reviews for building permit applications, Gonzalez said.

The additional services M.T. Causley/Safe Built is providing has surpassed the city’s initial budget projection for contracted services. The city has already spent $42,000 in contracted building services and projects that it will need an additional $75,000 to cover services as needed for the remainder of the year.

At an April 12 meeting, city commissioners voted unanimously to allocate $75,000 for inspection and plan review services through the end of fiscal year 2022 to M.T. Causley.

Commissioners also agreed to allocate $89,000 for Quorum Services to perform all residential building inspections. 

Funds that would normally be used to pay the salary for the vacant city position is helping to offset the cost for the external hires, but Mayor Al Johnson said the city is still trying hard to fill the seat.

He said he believes the city is offering competitive pay, but may have to raise the pay scale. The city is advertising for a building official with a pay scale ranging from $76,055 to $115,040 and a building inspector at $52,507 to $79,422.

“There is a lot of construction going on all over the area, so building officials are busy, and the number of individuals qualified for these jobs is limited, but the city keeps trying its best to fill the position,” Johnson said.

Parking regulations toughened

Meanwhile, commissioners unanimously approved on first reading a staff suggestion to increase parking fines, with specific focus on regulating boats, trailers, campers and recreational vehicles.

Gonzalez said parking fines were updated to align with Florida state statutes, which restricted the maximum fine for most non-moving vehicle infractions to $30. 

She noted the City Commission was concerned about the reduction of parking fines and directed staff to research the city’s ability to assess fines higher than $30.

“It has been determined that municipalities have the authority to establish fine amounts for additional parking regulations within their jurisdiction, beyond those regulated by the State Uniform Traffic Control regulations,” she said.

“We wanted to add additional restrictions to make it clear that vehicles such as boats, trailers and campers cannot be parked on city right-of-way on residential streets.”

Drivers of campers, vehicles with boat trailers and other large vehicles can get a temporary waiver to load and unload for 48 hours.

Another regulation prohibits cars from parking on medians or swales including grassy landscaped areas.

Gonzalez told commissioners the city will increase fines that fall under the category of parking without a permit and overtime/no meter payment violations. For example, the city will be increasing the fine for parking without a permit to $90 and overtime/no meter payment to $40. Unlawful parking of vehicles for sale, advertising, storage, or junkage on city right-of-way was raised to $500, and after 30 days the fine goes to $1,000. The fine for parking a boat trailer only will be $60, doubling after 30 days. Most other fines covered by state law will be $30.

Regulations are being updated to ensure that the license plate recognition software can function properly, by strictly prohibiting back-in or pull-through parking. This will lead to greater efficiency regarding parking enforcement. 

Changes in the law include a section that states “the following vehicles shall not be parked or stored such that any portion of the vehicle is located on city right-of-way directly contiguous to a residential property: (1) Any boat or boat trailer; (2) Any hauling trailer; (3) Any travel trailer, motor home, camping trailer or other recreational vehicle; (4) Any semitrailer truck or cab; (5) Any commercial vehicle; (6) Except a commercial vehicle or a semitrailer truck or cab during the actual performance of a service … provided such act is fully completed within six hours.”

The changes to parking requirements were passed unanimously on first reading.