Tuesday, February 1, 2011


Commissioner Pete Ferguson has been working on trying to persuade the Alliance, Canton, Massillon, North Canton and Stark County building departments to consolidate.

The question is:  Will consolidation ever happen?

Probably.  Most likely because "consolidation" and "merger" are politically charged buzz words these days and some sort of panacea of what ails government.

But, perhaps, it is not a wise thing to do.

For starters, it appears that it is not a taxpayer money saving proposition.

How's that?  Well, these building departments are enterprise funds (i.e. they support themselves through charges for services rendered).

Well then, what is the justification for consolidating?

For the public's convenience seems to be the primary justification (aka "one-stop-shopping").

George Kent, who is the interim head of the Stark County Building Department (SCBD) for nine months now, says that merely putting all Stark's building departments in one location is not really a consolidation.

Apparently Commissioner Ferguson thinks so.  And he has former commissioner Tom Harmon heading up a committee to push the merger project along.

A main virtue, a least from the county side of things, is getting all of the processes that a new building project needs to touch base with at one location.  Kent points out that a contractor or individual going to the Stark County Building Department is one step among a number.  There may be a need to contact Regional Planning, House Numbering among a long list of players in a building project applicant getting the necessary local government approvals in order to be in a position turn a spade of dire.  So unless the "outside" of the Stark County Building Department approval authorities are house in the consolidated location, you really do not have "one-stop-shopping."

Kent says he has met with Harmon a grand total of 15 minutes since the consolidation project has been under consideration and that, accordingly, he feels that the county department is being "left out of the loop."

The Stark County department is down to seven employees now including Kent.  With the downturn in the economy there has been less building going on (generating less permit fees) and therefore the department's revenue plummeted which prompted a significant reduction in force.

The SCBD is  located on the ground floor of the Stark County Office Building currently.  One of the problems with this locale is the parking.  Contractors/residential home owners sometimes have to circle the block ten times to get a parking place in their quest to visit the department.

Up until October, 2009 (going back about four years) the SCBD was located in local realtor Bob DeHoff's building immediately across from the Stark County Office Building on the northeast corner of Tuscarawas and Market Avenue, North.  However, the decline of Stark County building activity promoted Stark County not to renew the lease  in favor of the "free" rent at the county office building.

At yesterday's commissioners' work session, it came out that DeHoff is a unhappy about the county's non-renewal of the lease.  However, the switch did make the SCBD more financially viable.  Kent tells the SCPR that the SCBD drained its "rainy day fund" monies paying for the rental.

Another key part of merging all of Stark's building departments is the development of "prototype" software by the county's Information Technology (IT) unit within the Stark County auditor's department.  The hope is that ultimately building project applications requiring governmental approval can be done for the most part if not completely online.

That too has lagged because IT in December was devoted its attention to working with the Stark County treasurer in order to get the semi-annual real property billings out.

Even the online process has problems because not everyone has the computer skills and/or equipment to do the online thing.

Here is a video of discussions that Commissioners Creighton and Bernbei had with Kent about the operations of the SCBD in a work session they held yesterday.

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