The Dawson County Board of Commissioners last week approved a request from Planning and Development Director Jason Streetman for a budget amendment so that the department can hire two additional staff members to keep up with an increasing demand for services.
Streetman asked for an additional $52,000 for the salary and benefits for an administrative assistant, as well as an additional $55,800 for the salary and benefits for a building inspector.
The position of administrative assistant was previously frozen and is now being activated.
Streetman's request for an administrative assistant comes from an increase in walk-in customer traffic to the planning and development office.
According to numbers presented by Streetman, walk-in traffic increased by 41 percent from January through March 2016 to January through March 2017. The department also saw an increase in revenue, up from $545,000 in 2015 to $720,000 in 2016, an increase of 32 percent.
"This position will not be my administrative assistant," Streetman told the board at the April 13 work session. "This position, if approved by you all, will help answer phones, greet customers, accept and review building permits, building licenses, alcohol licenses, schedule inspections, provide follow uptake payments, process special events requests, respond to emails, address customers complaints...I could go on and on. In other words, this person will have all the work they can handle and then some."
Much of the increased traffic comes from an influx of housing permits that the county has seen in the past year. Last year saw the highest number of housing permits issued in the county since 2007, with 199 permits issued.
As of March 31, 56 housing permits have been issued so far this year.
The number of building permits has also increased to pre-recession levels. The number of building permits issued in 2016 was 521, also the highest since 2007. As of March 31, 167 building permits have been issued so far this year.
The increased workload is putting a strain on the department's productivity, according to Streetman.
"I have people staying late, coming in early, working through lunches, working sick, I could go and on...but the tough part is that I have to comp these folks back," Streetman said. "For every hour they work over, they have to get back in time off, leaving early, coming in late, as there is little to no money in the budget for overtime."
The commission couldn't argue with the logic of the growth of the county and what it will mean for the department responsible for regulating it.
"From my perspective, your department is going to be one of the busier departments in the next five to 10 years," said District 2 Commissioner Chris Gaines.
Another weak spot in the planning department that Streetman identified was that the county currently has only one building inspector.
Streetman's formal application for the positions states that as the department is currently in the process of reviewing and approving new commercial development along with several hundred single family homes and apartments, the need for a new building inspector will be greater than ever.
"As a manager I've never been a fan of adding staff just to add staff," Streetman said. "One thing I was surprised about when I came here was that we only have one building inspector, especially for a county of this size and the growth that we're seeing. We scramble to get the inspections done, largely at the expense of my code enforcement officer or my storm water guy or myself. It puts us behind."
In 2015 the department logged 3,500 inspections, and in 2016 it logged 4,870, a 38 percent increase.
Also, from January 2016 to March 2016, which is typically the department's slowest time of year, the department averaged 14.87 inspections a day. This year the department has averaged 16 inspections a day.
Streetman said that though those numbers show only a 7 percent increase, the number could easily double in the warmer months to the low 30s, possibly more.
"You don't want to cut corners on this, citizens expect quality inspections," Streetman said. "Really what I'm trying to do is get out in front of something. I know a lot of times government can be reactive, I'm just trying to be proactive."
District 3 Commissioner Jimmy Hamby said it was a waste of time for a building inspector to have to travel from Big Canoe to Ga. 400 and all over the county during the course of a day.
"It would be good to be able to have that second person to accommodate that," Streetman said.
The commission voted unanimously to approve both positions at the April 20 meeting.
Money for the salaries and benefits will come out of the fund balance.
The position of building inspector is open for all applicants until 5 p.m. May 10. The position of administrative assistant is open to internal applicants until 5 p.m. May 10.
County clerk compensation
The commission also voted to increase the compensation for the county clerk position, which prior to 2012 was a full time job that paid $39,000.
Danielle Yarbrough took over the job of clerk in 2012 in addition to her job as HR director. She has been paid her regular salary and a $5,000 supplement for the duties of clerk.
The recent salary recommended a salary range for a full-time county clerk as ranging from $38,962 to $60,392. Because of that, the commission voted to increase the pay for the position to $10,000 and open the position up internally for anyone who might want to take on the job in addition to their current job.
District 4 Commissioner Julie Hughes Nix at the April 13 work session said she wanted the public to know that Yarbrough performing clerk duties for the past five years has saved the county at least $160,000.
District 2 Commissioner Chris Gaines said he would like to see separation of the two positions that Yarbrough holds because as human resources director, Yarbrough reports to County Manager David Headley, while as county clerk she reports to the commission.
The position has been posted on the Dawson County government website and will be open to internal applicants until 5 p.m. May 10.