County makes move to help nix permit backlog

By: 
Ryan Lewis, Editor

Allegan County may yet boost staffing this year for the section of the health department that has faced lengthy backlogs in providing well and septic inspections and permits.

Plans for that kind of help looked to be on hold until next month after Allegan County commissioners voted Sept. 14 to table a decision on how to adjust the fees related to those services.

The county’s current fees are somewhat low compared to other counties; increasing fees was one strategy commissioners discussed in August as a way to add staff.

“A very interesting opportunity came up through the hiring process for the recycling coordinator position,” said Rob Sarro, the Allegan County administrator.

The previous coordinator resigned from that position in the spring to switch to a sanitarian position within the health department. Sarro said one of the applicants for the coordinator position had experience as a sanitarian.

“We put our heads together and said that while we’re still looking for permanent solutions, are there things we can do to still make an impact now?” he said.

The need was spelled out over the last two months, as it became clear the environmental services staff at the health department faced a significant backlog of requests for service. It’s average response time for some permit requests exceeded 21 days more than 20 percent of the time. Real estate agents and contractors spoke up to a public forum in August to say even a 21-day turnaround time was far too long.

Since then, Sarro said the county had take some of the suggested actions to help the department in the short-term while longer-term solutions—such as the fees—were being discussed.

“We have made some changes with clerical staff and cross training people and helping there,” he said. “We also have some staff back from leave, and we’re optimistic that will all help.”

Sarro said the applicant wasn’t offered the recycling coordinator job, but could help right away as a sanitarian. At a recent meeting with the health department, he said the team agreed.

“Honestly, I think was just a great opportunity to not wait for the final results—just get somebody on board and somewhat hit the ground running,” Sarro said. “We made clear it’s temporary to start.”

Commissioners are set to discuss changes to the fee structure at their Nov. 4 meeting.

The new sanitarian was not in place as of the Sept. 28 meeting, but the position had been offered. Sarro said the county would know if the position was accepted within approximately a week.

“Once that’s done, I think that’s something you can take back to folks and say we are making progress,” Sarro said.

Contact Ryan Lewis at rmlewis@allegannews.com or (269) 673-5534.

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