Jan. 5, 2005 - Marana has issued a slew of building permits during the past year, generating a $700,000 budget surplus and creating a substantial workload for town staff.

Marana's budget projections predicted the town would issue 110 permits per month for single-family homes for the fiscal year ending in June. Six months into the budget year, the town is issuing an average of 150 permits per month, town officials said. If the trend continues, the total permits issued for single-family residences will exceed 1,200 - more than any other year in Marana's history.

The town has issued about 300 permits per month in total, which includes permits for commercial and residential buildings, structural additions to homes, and the construction of pools, building official Jack Holden said.

Roy Cuaron, Marana's finance director, said it's still too early to determine how the surplus money generated from the sale of permits will be spent. It could be used to balance other areas of the budget, for general expenditures or go into the town's savings account.

Yet, Cuaron said, the revenue generated from the issuance of permits did influence the town's decision to hire the planning and architecture firm Swaback Partners PLLC. The firm, headed by architect Vernon Swaback, will help the town design a mixed commercial-residential area around the new town hall, which is scheduled to open in March. According to a letter sent from the firm to Development Services Director Jim Mazzocco, using the firm could cost the town $20,000 to $40,000 per month. Town Manager Mike Reuwsaat said Marana would employ Swaback during the next 12 months, likely costing the town $250,000 to $500,000.

In addition to a revenue surplus, the significant demand for building permits in Marana has created a tremendous workload for town employees, Holden said. Though the fiscal year started off fairly slowly, it then picked up, he said. At one point, Marana issued permits for 178 single-family residences in a single month, he said.

"The real issue is staffing," Holden said. "It taxes our staff."

While there have been periods when the town has seen more work in the past and larger jurisdictions, such as Pinal County, will issue considerably more permits than Marana, Holden said the number of permits has had a substantial impact on his department considering his staff has only 16 people.

However, Holden said the Town Council is generally responsive to providing new staff when the department needs it, and while employees have stayed busy, they've not been overwhelmed with the work. This year, the building department has added two members to its staff to distribute that work, a part-time clerk and a full-time plans technician - who reviews permits for pools or additions to houses.

In addition, for every building permit issued, a building inspector must examine the quality of the structure throughout the construction to ensure the safety of the building.

"Once you start issuing those permits, there's a lag time of about six weeks, and then all of the sudden all those inspections start appearing for all those additional homes," Holden said.

Holden said the town's seven building inspectors have been averaging about 120 stops per day, and each of those stops can require several inspections. One day, the town had 198 inspections scheduled while some of the inspectors were on vacation. That day, he and the other inspectors started work at 6:30 in the morning and stayed on the job more than 12 hours.

"Somebody's got to go out there and spend some time out there in the field," Holden said. "So the building inspectors have been working a lot of overtime, a couple hours a day."

Holden said the town considers many factors when predicting how many permits will be issued per month and the level of staffing it will require. He said the town looks at economic and market factors, and how many permits were issued in past years.

"We're making projections here and you can be dead wrong," Holden said.

He added that, although some of his staff has worked long hours, they've been able to avoid "burn out." He said he may request the town council hire another part-time building inspector, and, if demand stays the same, then make that person a full-time employee.

But when Marana hires an employee, Holden said the town does not want to turn around and lay off that employee six months later when the workload decreases. For that reason, before requesting another employee, Holden said he wants to ensure that person will have enough work.

Reuwsaat said when town officials calculate the budget they like to use "conservative" numbers of how many permits will be issued, so they do not overestimate that revenue source. While the town has issued a greater number of permits than anticipated, the growth that accompanies the building permits was expected.

Reuwsaat said one of the reasons so many permits have been issued is because Marana has acres of undeveloped farmland with few environmental impediments. Also, subdivisions at Gladden Farms and Continental Reserve continue to add homes as they approach build-out.

George Gleeson, Marana's lead building inspector, said his staff is not close to buckling under the current workload. He described it as "manageable." Each morning, Gleeson said he meets with the building inspectors and they have a chance to discuss any concerns they may have. At present, he's not concerned about losing any of his staff because of the number of inspections, he said.

Gleeson said the current workload does not require that Marana hire a new building inspector full time.

It's difficult to determine whether Marana will continue to issue such a substantial number of building permits throughout the year and if the town's inspectors will remain as busy as they are at present, Gleeson said.

"You're asking me to predict the weather," Gleeson said when asked if the inspector's workload would likely increase or decrease over the course of the next few months. He cited the same factors - such as a rapidly fluctuating economy and housing market - Holden listed when he determines how many permits the town will likely issue throughout the fiscal year.

Despite the substantial number of building permits and the inspections that follow, Gleeson said his employees have maintained the same level of quality in their examinations. He said although his staff must work long hours, they do not "slack off" on any of the inspections.

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