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Process Improvement

4 Lessons COVID-19 Reminds us About Building Department Cost-Effectiveness

Joe DeRosa

Learn how the recent COVID-19 pandemic places a greater focus on the tenets of Building Department cost-effectiveness.

It’s no secret that the recent coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has wreaked havoc on your annual budget. Municipalities and Building Departments across the country aren’t unaffected by the recent economics, either.  

However, in times like these it remains paramount to focus on what must go into creating and managing effective budgets. Fortunately, there are proven ways for municipalities to overcome these challenges and bolster budgets, allowing them to effectively meet community needs, control spending, and secure revenues: 

   1. PAY EXTRA ATTENTION TO DEVELOPMENT TRENDS 

While no one can predict the future with absolute certainty, it helps to get a handle on current and emerging development trends before making decisions about your building department’s budget. This means relevant activities in development patterns in your community, region, and across the country. You’ll also want to include your community’s specific development plans and needs. 

You can start by looking at what projects are on the horizon for your community and consider projects that are already on the docket, this will help better allocate community/municipality funds. From there, you can come to an understanding of your community’s most pressing needs to better determine funding priorities moving forward. This allows you to adjust goals and build an accurate and realistic spending projections.  

And remember, you can anticipate overall development trends by looking at other housing markets, not only within your community, but also regionally and nationally.  

  2. EXPECT CHANGING WORKLOADS AND STAFFING NEEDS 

You know that various departments in your municipality face regular fluctuations in workloads and activity. Building departments, for example, experience busy and slow seasons due to weather and construction cycles. In order to effectively handle changes to workloads and staffing needs, your community must look for ways to staff your departments efficiently during those inevitable ups and downs.  

Partnering with a third-party community development provider is one way you can mitigate the burden of staffing and fortify your workforce as needed. You can also choose to deal with seasonal fluctuations, large projects, or even pending retirements by scaling your department staff up or down, immediately, as workload demands. It’s an extremely cost-effective way to:  

  • Reduce risk of over- or under-staffing 
  • Only pay for resources you need 
  • Ensure costs aren’t exceeding revenue  

  3. KEEP OPEN LINES OF COMMUNICATION 

We mention this one all the time because of its importance: communicate, communicate, communicate.   

Ideally, communication among municipal leaders and stakeholders should start during the budget planning process. It’s important for all internal and third-party stakeholders across municipal departments to see how the community development budget plays into the larger municipal budget as a whole. For example, when SAFEbuilt enters into a community partnership (even in the middle of a fiscal year), we take the time and effort to understand the overall municipal budget so we can create service delivery goals and plan accordingly.  

This includes gathering community input as well, so when challenges and changes do arise, everyone is aware of the changes and it helps to ease internal and external tension and your community can move forward on a unified front.  

  4. PICK A SPENDING MODEL THAT MAKES SENSE FOR YOU 

Whether you choose to utilize the services of a third party on an ongoing basis or just asneeded, it’s critical to choose a sustainable payment model that fits your community’s needs. 

For project-specific work (such as a single planning project or code update), an hourly payment schedule or fixed cost contract might be most appropriate. These contract types are also better for departments in which fees are not collected as the result of services provided (i.e. planning and code compliance as opposed to building departments). 

However, for instances when fees do come into play, and to assure the best cost and resource savings while delivering the highest level of service and customer satisfaction, a percent-of-fee or performance-based model is likely your best option. These percentages can vary from contract to contract and are dependent on the services provided, the community’s fee schedule, and the level of investment needed to meet the service-level requirements. 

Learn more by clicking here to get in touch with a building services expert: https://safebuilt.com/speak-to-an-expert 

SAFEbuilt is a community development services company. We provide comprehensive building department, private provider, and other professional services with the goal of helping our customers build better, safer communities. 

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