Building, real estate community pressures Island county to re-open Fridays

Builders and real estate brokers are pressuring the county to re-open county offices on Fridays, calling the policy “devastating” to their industries.

Island County commissioners decided to revise office hours in December 2009 to give employees extra time to finish work after deep budget cuts had reduced staff.

The closure of the planning department has been particularly troublesome to real estate brokers and builders who experience a domino effect of delays as the result of an unissued permit.

Windermere broker Leanne Finlay said the Friday closures have been “devastating” to the local real estate and building markets.

“Any income-producing office should be open ASAP,” Finlay said. “My biggest beef is it affects the real estate and building markets quite heavily. It’s not that these guys aren’t working hard, they just don’t have enough days to work.”

Finlay said that closing on a house is an “emotional highlight” for many people and if brokers can’t get the transaction closed by Thursday because of a pending permit, it can be very disappointing for prospective homebuyers.

Finlay said some permits have taken as long as a year to finally process, and can often lead to lost sales.

“It doesn’t take much to make them flinch and go away,” Finlay said. “All of that lack of ability to move forward affects everything. I don’t know how you measure that.”

Scott Yonkman, of Yonkman Construction in Oak Harbor, agreed that the last few years have been frustrating for people trying to buy or improve homes.

“The bottom line is that there is a need to get permits processed and out as quickly as possible,” said Yonkman.

Yonkman noted that now that the economy appears to be picking up, it may create a bottleneck of permitting if the county is not given additional resources to process them. In addition, with rising interest rates, permitting delays could lead to a delays in financing, which could translate into additional costs to the homeowner.

“If these guys aren’t going to ramp up soon, it’s going to get ugly,” Yonkman said. “Having them closed slows the process down, jobs can’t start, and people can’t work.”

Commissioner Jill Johnson said during 2013 budget discussions that she wanted to revisit the issue in early 2014. But as of now, she doesn’t have the votes to support re-opening the offices.

“The pressure is there,” Johnson said. “And there’s a desire to serve the community, but there’s a nervousness that it won’t be sustainable.”

Over the past few years, the county has been slowly recovering from deep budget cuts resulting from the last economic recession. While the county has made some progress in rebuilding, Johnson said that it’s somewhat of a “slow process of how you put it back together.”

Commissioner Kelly Emerson has been vocally against reopening the offices on Fridays because of the cost, which would include hiring additional staff.

Commissioner Helen Price Johnson said she’s “not opposed to the idea” of reopening the offices, but she remains cautious.

“I have concerns about the sustainability,” Price Johnson said. “Costs keep rising and revenues are not. I’m concerned about making a commitment to the community that we can’t support long term.”

Price Johnson said she’s more inclined to invest in online resources that would keep costs down, but allow for accessibility seven days a week.

The commissioners have agreed to revisit the issue after the first quarter numbers are reported in the spring.

The current office hours are Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The change didn’t affect the county’s Law and Justice Building, which includes the courts, the sheriff’s office and the prosecutor’s office. Those offices must remain open under state law.

While hours vary across the state, Island County is one of only a few counties to have closed offices on Fridays.


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