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The Stephenville City Council got plenty of positive news during its regular monthly business meeting Tuesday night with the hiring of a new director of planning and building services, a Gold Member City Award from the Texas Amateur Athletic Federation, and a good report on delinquent tax collections.
All of which was overshadowed by a Planning and Business Services Audit Report presented by Boucher Morgan and Young’s Melanie Taylor showing the department’s documentation between September 1, 2014 and July 31, 2015 was a train wreck waiting to happen.
While many people have become aware Stephenville’s Planning and Building Services Department had problems with the “Schedule of Agreed-Upon Procedures and Findings” (Audit’s) the numbers are jaw dropping.
Tasked with finding out if plans were being reviewed by the city, Taylor reported there had been 626 permits issued by Stephenville. Of those 626 permits issued there were only 327 (52.2 percent) that had some type of documentation.
The numbers did not improve from there because of those 327 documented permits only 192 had a signature from a building official. Only 161 plans were documented and they were not necessarily the same ones as those with signed permits.
When it came to dating applications the numbers plummeted with only 203 applications of 626 permits having dates.
During the same time period there were 58 certificates of occupancy issued, none of which contained a signature verifying an inspection from the fire marshal. Of those 58 certificates there was documentation for just 20 of them and only seven actual certificates in city files.
There were also problems with the declared valuation that some builders have been giving the city. Basically Stephenville operates on an “honor system” with the cost of permits tied directly to the declared valuation of the cost per square foot to build.
Declared values ranged from $35 to $91 per square foot, a variance far too wide even when broken down into the ranges of single family, duplex or multi-family housing.
One example showed 24 apartments at 880 square feet, each being built for a declared value of $35.51 per square foot. Figures like those should be bringing multi-family housing investors to Stephenville in droves considering they are about half the costs in many markets.
Councilwoman Sherry Zachery made a motion for a second “audit” of the same dates in the prior year and it created a great deal of discussion including a second motion to table Zachery’s motion. Mayor Pro Tem Russ McDanel and Councilman Alan Nix said they felt such a move was going backward rather than forward.
Nix pointed out the council had an agenda item concerning a new director (Noah Cullis) for planning and building services and questioned why an another audit would be needed. Zachery felt there was no other comparative data and the council was seeing only one snap shot.
The word “audit” was used several times and Weldon seemed to take exception to the word, instead calling what had been done as “agreed upon procedures” and/or “performance measures.” Councilman Boyd Waggoner shrugged off the labeling and instead wondered how multi-family housing was being constructed at under $40 per square foot.
Regardless of the “name” applied, the council passed another “review” of the prior years’ time period by a 6-3 vote.
The city’s about to be hired Director of Planning and Building Services, Noah Cullis, was busy taking in the proceedings. While there were no objections to Cullis’ hiring, Waggoner did express some displeasure in not having the opportunity to review the candidate’s resume prior to voting for his hiring.
Cullis introduced himself, his wife Katie and their son Ethan as he explained briefly about his job history and admitted the task in front of him was a “bit frightening.” Cullis guaranteed the council that what he had been hearing about during the meeting was not going to happen on his watch.
“City departments have to be transparent, “ Cullis said. “We have to treat everyone the same way and that’s top notch. You are going to start hearing good things about this department. This won’t happen again.”
Cullis does have a solid work history to include longterm strategic planning in the states of Arizona, Colorado and Utah with his most recent employment with the city of Yuma, AZ.
Stay plugged into The Flash Today for more information concerning Tuesday’s Stephenville City Council meeting.