By Terry Harris
In what has been described as “an historic morning” last week, Sussex County Administrator Richard Douglas and Surry County Administrator Melissa Rollins signed a Memorandum of Agreement for joining building services between the two neighboring counties.
Afterward, Douglas explained that the agreement, believed to be the first of its kind between two counties in the Commonwealth of Virginia, addresses one of the challenges which smaller counties can face – limited funds to provide for the same services found in larger, more wealthy counties.
The plan calls for a combined entity consisting of two building inspectors – basically one for each county, though the two can back each other when needed – but only one shared Certified Building Official to sign off on permits, do plan reviews, and insure that building codes are met.
“And we will do a 50-50 split on costs,” he said.
“Every county traditionally has a certified building official to sign off on permits, do plan reviews and insure that building codes are met, as well as a building inspector who goes out and makes inspections as the work is being completed,” Douglas further explained. “This agreement should allow us to better provide building plan review and inspection services, more cost effectively and with improved customer service.”
“Typically, each county will have both a full-time official and a full time inspector,” he said. “By combining our services and dollars, even with limited funds we can attract better candidates.”
“Let’s say,” Douglas continued, “that the two counties ordinarily would pay $60k for an official – just picking arbitrary, not actual, numbers. But with each county in this scenario paying in $40k, together, the two can offer a prospective candidate $80k and attract a more highly qualified individual at $20k less for each. It might be hard for either to pay $80k for an individual, but both can have access to someone of that caliber if the costs are split.”
Douglas said that additional advantages to the plan include sharing other costs plus providing extra layers of coverage, primarily for inspections, as currently if a county has their inspector out for illness, vacation, etc., they have to coordinate with another jurisdiction for coverage and sometimes things might not get inspected in a timely manner. With the new plan, if either county has an inspector who is busy or out on leave, the county has additional coverage and flexibility.
“It’s an exciting opportunity – a cost effective way to provide important service that allows us to get more for the dollar and, at the same time, improve customer service,” he added. “For a number of years there has been dissatisfaction with some issues. We need to make a significant change in building services to improve customer service and this is a step in that direction. It’s a great thing.”
As both county’s boards have approved the move, Douglas said that they already have advertised for the positions, are taking applications, and are scheduling panel interviews for early October with the goal of having the new system function by the first of November.
“We are very excited about the opportunity to have this innovative approach to finding solutions to problems that impact both localities,” said Administrator Rollins of the move. “I really appreciate our Board of Supervisors’ agreeing to this approach.”
“Thanks are due to the board of supervisors in each county for allowing us to work together as we look forward to a bright future,” added Douglas.