South Russell Village is the only community in Geauga County with its own building department. The bottom line is either keeping the department or closing it and using Geauga County services.
But at the Monday Village Council meeting, discussion of a county satellite office surfaced with Councilman Gerald Canton noting that this could benefit other western county communities including Bainbridge, Newbury and Russell townships as well as South Russell Village.
“I would have to study it more. I want to keep the village building department, but if not, the idea of a county satellite office would be a good compromise,” Mr. Canton said.
Councilman Ray Schloss noted that members of village building committee met recently with a representative of the Geauga County Department of Community and Economic Development to explore how changes would be handled.
Councilman Mike Carroll said the county representative indicated that he would look into this.
Councilwoman Cindy Nairn said it was the first she had heard about a county satellite office. “What a great idea,” she said.
The village can’t find a part-time building inspector and is in a position that it should consider going with the county, Mr. Carroll said. The village department was established in the 1980s and is essentially built out.
Mayor Bill Koons said a building inspector would have to be shared with another community because they are in such high demand. Dave Hocevar is serving the village now as interim building inspector. He already is serving five different communities. “He is one of the best building inspectors in the country,” Mayor Koons said.
Councilman Mark Porter said there is space at the village for a county satellite. “I don’t know if they would guarantee same-day service,” he added. Right now, if a call comes into the village department at 9 a.m. for an inspection, someone is at the scene within an hour.
“We are able to give better services and more service to residents,” Mayor Koons said of the village department. The county standards are not as high as South Russell’s, he said. The county covers 400 square miles, while the village has 4 square miles and provides excellent services to residents. “I don’t want to give up control of our village, Mayor Koons said.
Mr. Porter added he did not know why anyone is in a hurry to close the village building department. As to a county satellite office in the village, “I’d like to hear from the Geauga County Commissioners.”
Regarding the cost of the village department, the village is paying Mr. Hocevar about $42,000 this year. The village brought in about $50,000 in permit fees annually for the past five years. The administrative assistant in the office is paid $25,000 to $26,000. Currently, the building department costs the village about $18,000 per year.
Mr. Canton noted that the village offers residents good services such as police. “If we give up those services, we may as well go back to Russell,” he said of the time when South Russell was a part of the township.
Councilman Dennis Galicki said there would be no objection for the village coming under the county services. “We would be happy to share the space,” he said of the village building department offices. The building activity in the village does not justify a full-time building department, he said, noting he can understand having a part-time department, although finding a part-time building inspector is difficult.
The village has a unique opportunity to go to the county and save taxpayers money, Mr. Galicki said of a county satellite office located in the village.
Mr. Porter, however, said he has had people asking why the village is talking of closing the building department. They want the service to be local, he said.
As to the cost of the building department, Mr. Schloss questioned how the village could continue it. There is no way to make money with the department, he said.
Mr. Carroll said the county has done a good job for the communities in the county. While the village is built out, he believes “We have to have a zoning inspector. I think with the right zoning inspector working with the county we can address these things.” He added that he believes the service from the county would be better.
Mayor Koons however, said the county doesn’t deal with inspections for drainage, storm water, footers, roofs, hot water, windows and doors. “I think we are better off than the townships, because we have control of our standards. It’s a service we provide to the residents,” he said of the village building department.
No one has said to close the building department, he noted. “Why reduce the services?” Permits keep coming in and “we’ve been in a boom for the last five years, with 300 building permits per year and we bring in over $50,000 per year,” Mayor Koons said. “We can provide better service.” They can look into a satellite office, but, he added, the village shouldn’t rush into it.
Mr. Galicki questioned how the village is providing a better service than the county.
Mr. Porter noted if the village sticks with its building department, “we get better service.”
Council decided some village representatives would visit the Geauga County Commissioners, at their Nov. 5, meeting to ask them about placing a county satellite office in South Russell.
Village Solicitor Bridey Matheney said Monday there are agreements the village and county would have to enter to set up a satellite office. It is a three- to four-month process. Village zoning would not go away, however the role of the village architectural board of review would be diminished and the design standards would go away, she said. The village planning commission would have a lesser role.