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County concerned about helping Inverness

Inverness doesn't mind outsourcing or partnering with Citrus County government when city officials think the county can run those services more efficiently.

The city disbanded its Police Department last year, choosing instead to pay the Citrus County Sheriff's Office for law enforcement services. In July, the city asked the county to consider taking over its building inspections and permitting when the city's lone building inspector _ which small towns are finding hard to come by _ wanted to work less or retire.

But today, six months later, what sounded like a good idea to Inverness sounds like a burden to the county after tropical storms Francis and Jeanne swept through, damaging at least 1,330 homes, many of which require fixes that need permits and inspections.

The work load has left county building inspectors busier than ever _ and not eager to take on more duties.

"That generated a lot of permit activity," said county Development Services director Gary Maidhof.

In 2004, the county received more than 16,000 building permit applications, 24 percent more than the 13,148 applications it received during 2003.

County inspectors also completed about 75,000 inspections _ twice as many as the year before _ because of the state's new building code, which went into effect in 2002. The county's staggering growth also contributed to that increase.

The number of new homes and mobile homes built in the county last year will probably add up to about 3,000, Maidhof said. Total numbers haven't been tallied yet.

Despite the workload, Maidhof hasn't ruled out recommending that the county agree to Inverness' request. The cost, which would be passed along to the city, could be as much as $80,000 a year, including the salary of a new inspector and the cost of equipping him with insurance and other needs.

But Maidhof has several concerns.

Among them, the county Building Division does not complete code enforcement inspections. Inverness does.

The city also has different land development regulations than the county, and Maidhof doesn't want his staff to learn both.

But the biggest concern is staffing. This month, Maidhof will ask county commissioners for building inspector pay raises to help retain them. One inspector just left for Crystal River, while a few other county inspectors are nearing retirement. Maidhof said he also will ask to hire five more inspectors, who earn between $28,000 and $43,000 annually, to the 14-person staff.

In the future, Maidhof would like commissioners to allow him to hire more inspectors whenever the number of inspections passes a certain benchmark.

Inverness, meanwhile, is willing to wait for things to settle down. The city approached the county first when its only building inspector wanted to cut back or retire last summer.

He cut back to part time in the fall but has since asked to go back to full time.

"It doesn't work out real well," Inverness Development Services director Ken Koch said. "There was a lot more work here than what can be done at part-time status."

Inverness issues 61 building permits, reviews 54 building plans, makes 120 building inspections and does 25 code enforcement inspections during an average month.

While the city no longer needs an immediate answer from the county, it will soon, Koch said. Inverness' inspector is 63. When he leaves, the city will be back to looking for a new inspector, considering a contract with a private company for inspections or asking the county for help.

Justin George can be reached at (352) 860-7309 or jgeorgesptimes.com.

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