MARCO ISLAND — Monday, Marco Island city building inspectors learned they would have a new boss as of June 2.
Marco Island City Manager Jim Riviere met with staff and explained a new collaboration he worked out with Collier County's building department. The island's four inspectors will become county employees working with a pooled staff that serves all of Collier County.
Reaction from local building contractors was swift and vocal.
"This is a major mistake," said Brian McMahon, a contractor in general construction. "They should have communicated what they were doing to the people most affected."
Riviere said Friday the decision was financial, and the city would do everything it could to make sure local businesses were not negatively impacted by the change.
"People will buy permits here (at Marco's City Hall) and change permits here. There should be no reason they would have to drive anywhere else," he said.
But island contractors saw the department as more than a collections agency.
"The department is the inspectors, and they helped contractors here," McMahon said. "They cared about the safety, integrity and beautification of the island."
McMahon recalled the years before cityhood when rogue contractors slipped onto the island and worked under the radar with no permits or inspections.
"Those days are cleaned up now, and the city inspectors did that," he said. "If the problem's financial, licensed contractors who pull permits would rather see fees raised and keep inspectors on the island."
McMahon described the new arrangement as a collection service only. The city will collect fees and plans and box them up to be sent to Naples. Changes in design plans, he said, would require a trip to Horseshoe Drive (in Naples), money and time lost would ultimately be borne by contractors.
Riviere said before his time as city manager, Community Development Director Steve Olmsted promised to cross-train inspectors rather than compartmentalize them into their respective fields. Riviere said he didn't make good on that promise. Olmsted was fired one week after Riviere became city manager.
"The county has a pool of talent much wider and deeper than the city can provide," Riviere said. "It worries me that inspectors and builders are so buddy-buddy."
Riviere said all four inspectors currently live in Naples and would benefit from a shorter commute. The county will supply them with vehicles 24 hours a day, seven days a week, he said.
Contractors aren't buying it. They feel waiting for inspectors to come to Marco Island will take longer. They believe a part of their business community has been severed. They fear no one will watch out for the city's interest in deterring non-licensed workers.
For now, the city manager says times should change, but he added his door is always open for those concerned, or they could call and he will listen.
The city managers phone number is (239) 389-5000.