Parish resorts to 3rd parties for permits

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By Juanice Gray, jgray@natchitochestimes.com

Individuals and companies in the process of attaining building permits or inspections can expect the process to proceed quickly. The Parish Council met in a special called meeting Monday, Oct. 1 to discuss ordinances pertaining to planning and zoning. Both ordinances, one to enter an intergovernmental agreement for building inspection services, and one to retain services of a third-party for same, passed unanimously, but not without serious consideration.

The parish planning and zoning director’s position became vacant recently with Greg Lemoine’s retirement. Lemoine stated in a letter to the editor in the Natchitoches Times in the Sept. 29-30 edition, “My sudden retirement was not my idea.”

The circumstances of his retirement will be disclosed to the council in an executive session at the next regular council meeting.

With the position vacant, the parish could not issue permits or inspections as required by law. Parish President Rick Nowlin opened the public meeting by stating, “This has had a negative impact to developers and individuals. I am asking for a third party (provider) for an immediate solution.” He stated an intergovernmental agreement would take longer to arrange, possibly two-three months or more. Nowlin stated he contacted the Office of Code Compliance and the fire marshal hoping to find a Certified Building Officer (CBO).

“We simply can’t wait,” he said. “We’ve talked to three firms total.” Nowlin said the 501c3 company, Institute for Building Technology and Safety (IBTS) had the “…immediate fix we need. People are waiting on their projects and …(after this immediate fix) we can see if we want to stay with the third party or move to other solutions.”

Councilman Russell Rachal asked Nowlin if any projects had ever been completed, partially or in full, without permits. Nowlin stated to his knowledge, no projects were completed but over the years some had begun without permits. “In those cases we told the people they had to stop and get a permit,” Nowlin responded.

Councilwoman Patsy Ward-Hoover voiced concerns over the council’s right to be informed and to have input on hiring and firing department heads. “Why, all of a sudden, did he retire?” Ward-Hoover asked. Nowlin vowed to fully disclose the details in executive session. Ward-Hoover cited Lemoine’s letter to the editor saying “..he says otherwise. We should have had someone in place. The council had no say. I feel sorry for the contractors and realtors and individuals. Now you are asking us to put something in place. I don’t think we’ve been treated fairly … and we’re owed an explanation.”

Councilman Chris Paige stated Nowlin had the right as Parish President to choose department heads. “Something has occurred with Mr. Lemoine. Mr. Nowlin can explain in full at the next meeting. I am willing to move forward. There are some things we can’t talk about in public, but I don’t want it to appear we’re covering something up.”

Discussion turned to the cost for a third party. “We could have a shortfall in the short term,” Nowlin said, a comment supported by council attorney Shantel Wempren. No exact figures were provided, however Wempren said a ballpark estimate was $50-100 more per inspection, which would create a shortfall in the budget.

Larry Walters, La. branch manager for IBTS, said, “We are willing to work with ya’ll on the existing permits.” Walters said since they are a non-profit, their fees could be in line, or possibly cheaper, than a full time CBO. “A CBO is very difficult to hire. We have enough staff to serve your parish.” CBO training takes a minimum of one year, usually much more.

The parish would be responsible for taking in the applications and IBTS for executing them. Nowlin said the process would move forward without hiring any new staff to handle the paperwork. “We’re not hiring anyone,” Nowlin said. “We would accept the applications and fees, contact them (IBTS), the parish would do the paperwork and send to them daily.”

Rick Nowlin, Parish President

When asked about the time frame to issue permits and inspections left in limbo by the office vacancy, Nowlin said, “It depends on the complexity of the review, but I don’t see any significant delays.” Rachal made the motion to amend both ordinances to include a time limit of 180 days, during which the council will review the effectiveness and cost of a third party and/or intergovernmental process.

In 180 days, the council will decide the future of the planning and zoning office.

Council members present were Ward-Hoover, Rachal, Paige and Doug deGraffenreid. Also present were Wempren and Parish Treasurer Debbie Miley.