The Dalles City Council decided Monday not to change the status quo for how planning and building code services are handled, although officials remain interested in negotiating with Wasco County to combine programs.
Julie Krueger, city manager, recommended against the city joining with the county to purchase the Mid-Columbia Council of Governments facility on Kelly Avenue where building permits are now issued.
MCCOG has decided to cease operations by Jan. 31. The question of who will take over the building codes services it has provided has become complex because the agency serves Wasco, Sherman, Gilliam and Wheeler counties.
Hood River is also part of MCCOG but provides its own building code program.
Krueger told the council Nov. 27 that it did not make financial sense for the city to buy the MCCOG property or pay rent to the county and ongoing maintenance of the facility.
She said MCCOG had borrowed close to $500,000 from the building codes program, in part, to construct a transportation hub on the west end of town. Krueger said a purchase would be complicated because that money would have to be paid back.
About 90 percent of building permit revenues are generated within the city, so Krueger said she had been hopeful that enough funding would be available to help pay for a position with the planning department to do permitting work.
However, once she learned that state law prohibited the money from being used in that way, Krueger said there was no monetary value to changing the current system.
The city maintains its own planning department at city hall and utilizes the building code program, which is administered by MCCOG.
“I think one of the things is that MCCOG is wrapping this up so quickly, we’ve been pushed into a corner,” she said of the need to give the county a decision.
Tyler Stone, the county’s administrative officer, was present at the Nov. 27 council meeting.
He said there might be some latitude in the statute regarding personnel if that person performed duties tied to building codes.
He said without a partnership with the city, it was doubtful the county would purchase MCCOG’s offices.
The Wasco County Commission has proposed housing its planning program under the same roof with the city to provide “one stop shopping” for contractors, developers and residents.
Krueger said MCCOG’s dissolution was made more complex by how a $3.2 million reserve in the building codes division would be split among the counties it served. That money is from fees charged to large projects, ranging from wind farms in the eastern counties, especially Sherman County, to Google development in The Dalles.
Sherman, Gilliam and Wheeler counties want a fair share of the funds. They are also asking Wasco to continue providing building code services and not turn the program back to the state.
“My feeling is that, right now, we have an opportunity to do some service sharing, but there’s a price to pay,” said Stone, who encouraged city officials to move ahead with the MCCOG property purchase.
County commissioners Steve Kramer and Scott Hege were also at Monday’s meeting.
Hege told city officials that owning MCCOG’s headquarters would be an asset in the long run.
“I would encourage you to do this,” he said. “I don’t think it’s money down the drain.
“The benefit of this whole thing is to keep the process as efficient as possible.”
Krueger said she had heard from citizens that they wanted to see the MCCOG building go back into private ownership.
It was possible, said Hege, that the county would return the program to the state, although officials had concerns about the level of service if the work was not done locally.
“I just want to make sure it functions and functions well,” he said.
If the program returns to the state, which once ran building codes, it would be two years before the county could get it back, said Hege.
Neither the city nor county currently have space readily available to house the building codes program, said officials from both agencies.
However, Hege said if the county took over the program, it would find a place to “squeeze” in the additional employees.
Mayor Steve Lawrence said contractors and others who used the service needed to be consulted before the fate of the program was decided.
“There’s a lot of moving parts. I like the idea of co-locating. I like the city and county working this out, but the devil’s in the details,” he said.
He said the city did not always go into a new venture to make money; sometimes the goal was to provide services more efficiently.
“It’s an expensive convenience,” said Councilor Russ Brown, who weighed in against the proposal.
Krueger said the city and county would continue working on the concept, an idea supported by the council.
She said having the two-year moratorium on taking back the service from the state might provide enough time to work out a good solution.
For now, the council will keep planning services at city hall and have residents and developers continue using the building code program in whatever form it takes.