City looks to fill staff vacancies as commercial growth increases in Meriden
MERIDEN — The city has a shortage of building inspectors at a time when it is experiencing an uptick in commercial and industrial development in all corners.
The Building Department usually has four building inspectors but has been working with two for several months. The shortage is not unlike those facing other municipalities, but can lead to safety or slowdowns in activity, said Paul Dickson, director of Planning, Development and Enforcement.
Dickson has also been leading the department without an assistant for the last several months. After a lengthy hiring process, a recent offer has been made to an applicant and Dickson hopes for the best.
“I won’t cheer until it’s accepted and hopefully after that they stay,” Dickson told members of the City Council’s Economic Development Housing and Zoning Committee this week. “Now, if anybody knows any licensed building inspectors… We are working to bring in temporary help. That’s a department that’s very important to Meriden’s viability particularly in commercial and industrial development.”
Dickson said the situation is manageable but challenging.
“The building department has been doing an excellent job prioritizing applications and inspections and putting in extra hours as necessary,” Dickson said in an email. “They have done this through close coordination with contractors and residents. In addition, projects such as Achieve Financial (credit union) have assisted with grouping their trade work so single inspections can cover as much ground as possible. Scheduling for inspections has gotten tighter with fewer potential slots available, but the department continues to communicate with applicants to best coordinate their efforts with availability.”
Mayor Kevin Scarpati said Thursday he was surprised at Dickson’s update because he had hoped the department would have some relief by now.
“I recommended temporary ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funds for new inspectors and catchup on gaps,” Scarpati said. “When the grant money goes away, hopefully we’ll be caught up. I would support temporary dollars to support temporary moves.”
The city is exploring temporary/contract opportunities to assist the department with the workload while it continues to fill the full-time positions, Dickson added.
Dickson told members that applications for commercial and industrial activity, primarily industrial are on the rise. Recent commercial projects included the Popeye’s on East Main Street, Aldi’s on Chamberlain Highway, Achieve Financial Credit Union all demanding building inspections prior to opening.
Should the city fall behind on inspections, it could mean a slowdown in development, or companies not taking out permits, which could become a safety issue, he said.
City Economic Development Director Joseph Feest told committee members at the same meeting that during a recent visit to the future Achieve Financial Credit Union on East Main Street, he was told by the contractor the city’s building inspector worked solidly throughout the construction process.
“Even though short staffed, they are putting in complete staff to get things done,” Feest told committee members.
Staffing shortages in other departments could be nearing an end.
The city recently filled an assistant position in the Economic Development Department, and has extended an offer to fill the Director of Public Works and Engineering Department, Scarpati said.
The city is looking at several large scale building projects in its development pipeline. Mark Development LLC has an application to the city’s Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission to develop a site off Murdock Avenue. Recent developers have secured zone changes to allow housing projects on Tremont Avenue, Pratt Street and more recently on Westfield Drive. Cannabis retailers, large and small-scale growers are also expected to warrant inspection services when the state issues licenses. Yale New Haven Health Services has also put out the demolition bids for the interior of the former Macy’s department store at the Meriden Mall.
The building inspector shortage isn’t just impacting Meriden. A survey conducted by the National Institute of Building Sciences for the International Code Council reveals a “mass exodus” of building safety professionals over the next several years. In fact, 80 percent of respondents plan to retire within the next 15 years, with 30 percent planning to hang it up in the next five years.
“There are many towns and cities that are seeking building inspectors in this tight job market,” Dickson said.
Reporter Mary Ellen Godin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.