Maple Ridge city hall (Neil Corbett/The News)

Maple Ridge city hall (Neil Corbett/The News)

Report critical of Maple Ridge’s building department

Staff can be belittling, hostile, threatening to applicants, consultant found

City hall staff are reportedly hostile and even threatening to developers and construction professionals, city council has heard.

Council recently discussed a building permit function review, written after a consultant interviewed professionals in the development community, as well as city staff. There is damning language in the 55-page report, including city staff being belittling, hostile, and threatening.

“Unfortunately a number of examples of poor customer service have come to light in the department’s dealings with developers, buildings, professional architects, professional engineers, code consultants and others involved in building permit applications for complex, Part 3 projects,” said the report by consultant Allan Neilson.

It said such concerns were raised in many interviews involving a broad range of individuals from a variety of projects.

“Concerns highlighted specific behaviours and actions that can only be characterized as unprofessional, uncivil, disrespectful and belittling to others, hostile and threatening,” it said. “The most egregious examples of such behaviour appear to be limited to a small number of staff in the department.”

“It is the entire department, however, that is damaged when such indefensible conduct occurs and is allowed to occur. Indeed, it is the entire city and its reputation as a place to invest and do business that suffers.”

The report noted the department regularly receives accolades and thanks from homeowners and small builders after helpful service.

Al Hogarth, president of the Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows Chamber of Commerce, agreed with the report’s findings, and was pleased to see council dealing with it.

“Many of the concerns and recommendations brought forward by this report are supportable, and would be welcomed by those engaged in the development/building industry,” wrote Hogarth, who is a former mayor.

He urged “definitive action” for the city to begin to rebuild its reputation.

Neilson said the city needs more “bench strength” in the building department. The consultant made a number of recommendations to the city, including:

• Creating new positions – a new senior building official, a customer service manager and a new clerk.

• Hosting sessions with builders aimed and assisting with applications.

• Developing a fast track program for low-risk residential projects.

• Reducing the number of inspections.

• Cross-training staff to enable staff to manage workload.

• Restructuring the building department.

Coun. Ryan Svendsen noted the building department has a net revenue of approximately $750,000 per year, and questioned whether it should be re-invested into that department to create better service.

He asked where those funds go at present. Staff answered they go to a reserve to “weather a storm” if there should be fluctuations in building permit revenues, and to general revenue.

Chelsa Meadus said a key part of the report to her is about “remembering that the public is our customer. In private enterprise that’s really apparent, but sometimes maybe we lose that at the city.”

She said facilitating builders helps to increase the tax base, and provides both city jobs and jobs within the building industry.

“I think we’ve really forgotten about the customer, and I’m not sure how we get back to that,” said Meadus.

Council directed administration to come up with a strategy to implement the reports recommendations.

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