Teton County commissioners have given the Planning and Building Department the go-ahead to hire an additional code compliance officer whose work will be split between reviewing building, planning and grading plans for compliance with county code, and otherwise investigating possible violations of the rules.
The move comes as Teton County experiences surging demand for building permits and escalating calls from the public to better enforce codes about wildlife feeding and bear proof trash cans as Grizzly 399 ventures south.
The Planning and Building Department processed 75% more building permits in the 2021 fiscal year, which ended in June, than in the 2020 fiscal year: 562 permits in fiscal year 2021 versus 320 permits in fiscal year 2020.
“The goal is to both respond more quickly to code compliance calls and to reduce the time it takes to obtain a building permit,” Teton County Planning and Building Director Chris Neubecker told the Jackson Hole Daily in an email.
Building approvals have also been taking months, and Teton County Commissioner Mark Barron has raised the issue multiple times in public meetings over the past few weeks.
Neubecker has said that the bottleneck has been on the zoning side of the equation and that the most recent code compliance officer, who handles the zoning reviews, has left. But the Teton County Board of County Commissioners’ approval means Neubecker now has the green light to hire two such officers.
That should double his department’s capacity to do that work, if he can make the hires amid a countywide staffing shortage.
“I would anticipate that would reduce the permit turnaround time, because we would have twice as many people working on the plan review side,” Neubecker told commissioners on Oct. 19.
He added that the recent “kink in the system” has been in zoning review: having one code compliance officer both review plans for their alignment with code and respond to calls about possible code violations.
“That’s where things were slowing down,” he said. “So I would anticipate that the permit turnaround times would reduce and things would go out the door more quickly.”
Commissioners, who oversee Neubecker’s department and the county’s purse strings, voted unanimously to support the ask.
They set aside roughly $50,000 for Neubecker to pay the new employee if he’s able to make a hire before the fiscal year ends in June. In future years, the planning director plans to budget about $72,000 for the position.
Funds for the code compliance position recently vacated by Joshua Butteris are already included in the budget for the current fiscal year, which will end June 30.
Commissioners also gave Neubecker the go ahead to spend some $43,000 more this fiscal year on a temporary building inspector. That person is filling in for Building Inspector Rob Watsabaugh, who is recovering from an accident sustained during last year’s Town Downhill ski race.
Rich Bloom, who closely follows development in Teton County and serves on the board of the Teton Raptor Center, supported the move in public comment at the commissioners’ Oct. 19 regular meeting.
“Recently, it’s been as slow as being told that it could take eight to 12 weeks before planning gets through its portion,” Bloom said of the permitting process. “I know they’re all doing their best, but they need some more help.”
With Butteris’ position vacant, Neubecker said, planners who usually focus on other issues like rezone requests, proposed changes to county code and the like have been helping with plan reviews.
“They’re doing a decent job,” he told commissioners on Oct. 4. “But they can’t do that at the same time they’re doing other planning responsibilities.”
Bloom also said he thought the piece about enforcing county regulations was critical.
“No matter what land development regulations we put together and what code we put together, unless there’s enforcement, it becomes meaningless,” Bloom told commissioners. “And unfortunately, there’s some in our valley that’ll exploit that lack of oversight.”