Arguments made years ago for dumping the County Building Code
Dollar figures (and links) from 2009 might need updating for 2017.
The county should dump the Building Code passed in 2004.
There are four
major reasons for this.
I. Dumping the code will save money -- a lot of money.
$422,000 is the best figure available for how much money the code lost
last fiscal year, 2007/8. $954,000 is the code's total deficit over its
first four years. The code has lost money every year. Last year was
But to get the code passed, the Planning Department said it would turn a
profit after three years of small losses. James Vlahovich (then head of
the Department, now Deputy County Administrator) predicted first a
$166,000 loss, then $1400 profit in fy 2007/8. The actual $422,000 loss
is almost 300 times bigger than that.
The code is a bleeding ulcer in the county treasury.
II. Eliminating the code bureaucracy will discourage accounting games.
The Board Of Supervisors has repeatedly accepted reports that concealed
the true financial picture.
In 2006, Department employee Ron Durgin (then, and now [when this was originally written, in 2009], in charge of
enforcing the code) reported to the Board that the code was paying its
way. But in 2007, Judy Anderson (then head of the Department) revealed
a deficit of $64,000 during the year covered by Durgin's report.
In 2008, Durgin made a report in a format that, unlike Anderson's 2007
report, didn't show the deficit, nor provide figures from which it could
be calculated. A copy of Durgin's report is online at
But the report could easily have shown the deficit. Each month, the
Department kept a written spreadsheet of code activity and income for
that month and for the year to date. After a citizen's Public Records
request, the Department produced the spreadsheet for mid-June 2008,
almost the end of fy 2007/8. It showed code income of $411,000, down
$150,000 from 2006/7.
Of course, a balance sheet requires both income and expenses, and
Durgin's report didn't isolate code expenses. However, Durgin's report
also shows expenses up uniformly, about $20,000, for each division of
the Department, so it's fair to estimate that code expenses went up
about $20,000 from the year before -- and that figure is available from
Anderson's report the year before.
$422,000 is the deficit that these numbers give for fy 2007/8. Expenses
grew about $20,000 from 2006/7, and income dropped about $150,000.
$20,000 more expense, and $150,000 less income, makes $170,000 more
deficit than the $252,000 for 2006/7. $170,000 + $252,000 = $422,000.
The 2008 report could have plainly shown this disastrous deficit.
Dropping the code will send a strong signal that the Board will no
longer tolerate accounting games.
III. Dumping the code will restore credibility to the Board.
When the code was passed, the Board voted to require a "review and
evaluation process," apparently by "Supervisors, Planning & Zoning
staff, County Attorney staff, experts in the field of building codes,
builders and developers, and interested members of the public." (The
meeting's minutes are online at
Such a review and evaluation would test the promises made in order to
get the code passed. For instance, beside Vlahovich's erroneous
financial predictions, he also said the code was "necessary for
protecting the public health, safety and welfare" and would encourage
"alternative construction methods like straw bale ... and rammed earth."
But there's been no impartial or timely testing of promises, only a long
series of self-serving reports by the Department itself, delayed with
the consent of the Board.
When the Board passed the code, Vlahovich asked for "nine months before
the review and evaluation." Oddly, just a few days before the
evaluation was due, he told the Board that "he did not realize the
motion required an evaluation" at that time. The Board allowed a delay.
In March 2006, Durgin gave the quickie report which said nothing about
the code's effect on public safety.
In June 2006, the Board voted for another report by July 2007. Then the
Board delayed that until August 14, 2007. Then Anderson gave a report
which totted up every code violation written up, without examining
whether a violation was in theory a serious health or safety issue, or
whether public safety had in fact actually improved at all.
Most recently, on October 6, 2008, the Board received Durgin's report,
which handled "life or safety" issues the same way that Anderson's
report did in 2007: it totted up the code violations written up,
without trying to show that the code has actually had any effect on
In fact, the 2008 report expresses pride at having so many employees.
However, the code was not passed as a job creation measure. And with a
staff of about 11 people, the county would save money by paying each of
them $40,000 a year to stay home.
The Board loses credibility every day it continues this program without
actually testing the promises made when it was passed.
IV. Dumping the code will reduce dislike of county government.
Many rural residents loathe the code.
The dislike began in 2005, when the new code took effect in the area
around Sierra Vista, and got worse in 2006 and 2007, as the code took
effect in the central and eastern parts of the county.
The resentment arose because the code, in many rural eyes, is an effort
to impose Sierra Vista-style regulation on people who have no desire to
live as if they were in Sierra Vista.
The resentment increased because of the tactics of some Department
employees, who were perceived as, to be plain, thugs. Even if
enforcement were better, there is no apparent reason for enforcement in
rural areas: buildings put up before 2004 were not suffering a rash of
falling down or burning up. People in rural areas tend to pride
themselves on competence and self-reliance.
There's no reason for the resentment to decrease, given the huge
financial loss that the code is running, and the fact that there's never
been an impartial, citizen-based evaluation.
Dumping the code should help rehabilitate county government with many