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Independent report offers mixed bag

An independent engineer hired by county officials to settle a dispute with Hernando Beach resident Rick Zartman over home repairs said Thursday that Zartman spent more on repairs than he claimed but less than the county suspected.

New Port Richey engineer Oliver Turzak's report did not support county Development Department officials' assertion that Zartman rebuilt most of his house's interior without a permit after a fire last year. Nor did it concur with Zartman's statements that he repaired the house for $11,400.

Not including labor, Turzak estimated it cost $24,728 for Zartman to fix the house and do minor remodeling. Turzak added $9,720 for labor.

Turzak's figures push Zartman over the 50-percent rule, which requires homes in flood-prone areas to be rebuilt on stilts if the cost to repair them reaches 50 percent of their value. For Zartman's $40,000 house, the halfway mark is $20,000.

"I believe that the report is fair," County Administrator Bonnie Dyga said. "I believe that another engineer would have come up with a similar report."

Zartman disagreed.

"This is a bogus report," he said.

Dyga said Zartman will have the opportunity to hire another engineer to reinspect his house, but added that he had agreed to use Turzak.

The dispute between Zartman and county Development Director Grant Tolbert began last year after Zartman tried for several months to get a permit to repair his roof. Eventually Zartman gave up and did the repairs without a permit. Tolbert had said Zartman's permit application was not complete.

After he fixed his house, Zartman went before county commissioners and confessed. As part of an agreement with commissioners, Zartman agreed to let county officials inspect his work to see if it met building codes. Because Zartman did the work without a permit, the county was unable to inspect the construction along the way.

County officials hired Turzak last week to inspect Zartman's house at 3416 Eagle Nest Drive after Tolbert released a report last month that suggested Zartman spent anywhere from $20,000 to $60,000 repairing his house. Included in the county's original report was an estimate by Turzak of how much Zartman spent on his house based on information supplied by Tolbert. Turzak never went inside the house the first time.

A review of the county's report and a tour of the house by the Times uncovered several questionable items, including mathematical errors. A revised report, written after the errors were discovered, also contained mathematical mistakes. The county's report also listed costs for replacing vinyl flooring _ there is no vinyl in Zartman's house _ and listed code violations for a flat roof. The roof on Zartman's house is pitched.

On Monday, Turzak reinspected Zartman's house. He was asked to decide how much work had been done on the house, whether it met state codes and how much it cost.

In addition to compiling the cost estimate, Turzak also found several code violations in Zartman's work. Turzak said Monday his main concerns were insufficient attic insulation, inadequate bracing of roof trusses, a lack of support in a block wall and an improperly placed air system.

Except for the air system, Turzak said Monday the other violations would not be terribly expensive to correct. County officials had planned to contact the Federal Emergency Management Agency to ask if those costs must be calculated against the 50-percent rule. However, Dyga said that won't be necessary because Turzak's report already places Zartman above the 50-percent threshold.

Zartman said he will not put his house on stilts and will fight the county's new report if necessary.

"This is a conspiracy to turn me out of my house. I intend to be (at the May 5 County Commission meeting) to give a full rebuttal to this g--d--- report and to prove that there is collusion, conspiracy and that (Turzak) is in with Tolbert," Zartman said.

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