COLLIER COUNTY — Collier County is taking a step to make its building permits and the fire inspection process more independent of one another.
But customers argue the change could make Collier less business friendly.
After months of discussion, county staff recommended to the county commissioners this week that the county and the fire districts separate the fee assessments and collections for permits, and change the interlocal agreement to reflect the new arrangement. Commissioners approved the measure unanimously.
"We believe an agency should manage it's own finances," said Nick Casalanguida, the county's growth administrator.
Local contractor John Melton said he thought commissioners were making a mistake separating the fire and the building permits for projects.
"This is going to be adding more steps," he said. "And financially, I am going to have to pay at two different places and use two checks.
"I think if you want to make the split, fine, but you as the county need to take in all the fees."
In April, a workshop was held to discuss the relationship of the county's permitting and inspection department with the independent fire review office, the fire districts' field inspection process and their mutual customers.
The county's Growth Management Division, planning and regulatory section, currently acts as the principal agent for the acceptance of development permit applications for both the county and the fire districts. In this role, the county collects and distributes plans and fees for both agencies.
But neither the county nor the fire districts are happy with the relationship for different reasons, including being blamed for holding up permitting when one agency is slower than the other. And customers are complaining, too, staff say.
While separating the two seems a good idea to the county and fire districts, the county's Development Services Advisory Committee recommended keeping a "one stop shop" for permits and to continue to work toward business operations.
Commissioners supported staff's decision, but admitted they had some concerns.
"Establishing where the problem is and separating ourselves from the problem doesn't give me a lot of comfort," Commissioner Tim Nance said. "We're going to be taking on economic development and making our community more business friendly.
"It does not give me any comfort to say, we've done whatever we can, it's the fire guys' fault."
Melton said he believes the county has done much in the last three years to expedite the permitting process.
"No one side is without fault. Consensus has been to expedite the process and get the permits out," he said of the problems contractors have had. "Collier as a whole is becoming more business friendly."
Casalanguida said the county is committed to providing good customer service. The county's software, which takes in permits, can generate two bills on the same slip given to customers, he said.
"We want to make it simple for the customer," he said. "Worst case scenario, we're two buildings away, they have to walk. Or we can give them one of our intake desks."
Ed Riley, the county's fire code official, said the issue might be going to two locations to make a payment.
"I don't see it as a significant cost addition," he said. "We might have to have people trained to collect those fees, but I don't see it as a big cost issue."
Nance said he was supportive of the decision and believes that the county and the fire districts are making an effort, but it is not enough.
"I would love for our businesses to come to us and say Collier County is the best place to work," he said. "I won't be satisfied until I hear that.
"We are truly not where we need to be."