DOB lays off workers due to budget cuts

By Amy Tennery | July 14, 2010 06:30PM

Construction industry group head says low construction level demands fewer inspectors

From left: Louis Coletti, Robert LiMandri

After eight years of increased inspector presence, the Department of
Buildings has eliminated 20 of its employee positions, as a result of a
roughly 8 percent budget cut to the department. Of the eliminated
employees, eight were inspectors, five were plan examiners and seven
were administrative staff.

The DOB’s 2011 forecasted budget is approximately $98.42 million, down
from 2010’s forecasted $102.75 million fiscal year budget.

Yet industry leaders say they’re unfazed by the smaller number of
inspectors, citing a recession-driven downturn in the amount of
construction activity in the city.

The DOB currently has 359 inspectors.

“We’re close to a depression in this industry… construction activity is
down 60 percent,” Louis Coletti, head of the Building Trades Employers’
Association, said, noting that there are far fewer construction sites
that need monitoring. Referring to city funds, Coletti said that if the
city doesn’t need as many construction inspectors, money should not be
allocated to them. “You target the resources where you need them,” he
noted.

New York City office construction starts reached just $163 million in
the first four months of the year, which puts it on track to reach $489
million by the end of the year — a figure that pales in comparison to
2009’s $2.6 billion, according to the New York Building Congress.
Residential construction isn’t faring any better, the NYBC said, with
issued residential building permits down 82 percent in 2009.

The funding reduction — part of a citywide spending cut across all
agencies — is included in the estimated 2011 fiscal year budget.

Marc La Vorgna, a spokesperson for Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office,
said that 1,100 employees across all agencies have been laid off, with
uniformed services and education bearing the least of the brunt, seeing
no layoffs.

“The overall message is, ‘be more efficient,'” La Vorgna said.

Tony Sclafani, a spokesperson for DOB, said that’s exactly what his agency intends to do.

“With these budget reductions, everyone is expected to do more with
less,” Sclafani said. “We do not anticipate the core mission of the
department to be affected.”

Among the measures in place to keep inspections stringent are the
approximately 25 new construction safety laws enacted sine 2008,
Sclafani said, and “some of the toughest crane regulations in the
world.”

Many of these safety laws came in response to a rash of construction related deaths that resulted in more than 20 worker deaths.

Industry leader Coletti said that he expects the agency’s once-burgeoning inspector roster will keep the industry afloat.

“You have to put this in context — this administration… has probably [roughly] doubled the size of the inspection staff in the last eight years,” Coletti said. “But we’re unfortunately in an economic recession.”