The Real Deal Miami

Slowdown trims region’s building departments

By Randy Abraham | February 20, 2009 12:21PM

With the real estate slump and economic slowdown, South Florida building departments in cities of every size are feeling the pinch, as first reported in the Miami Herald.

In the western Broward County city of Miramar, once one of the fastest-growing cities in the nation, the building department leaves unfilled positions vacant, and in late 2008 staffers went on a four-day work week schedule, said Community Development Director Harold Zombek. The department has 22 employees and now contracts out with Broward County for inspectors when it needs extra help.

“We’ve gradually reduced our staffing through attrition over the years,” said Zombek. “We’ve been anticipating the slowdown. As it gets built-out there is less need.”

In the nearby town of Davie, officials last eliminated all vacant and unfilled positions across the board as part of a cost-cutting move, said spokesman Braulio Rosa. Currently, town officials are planning a five to 10 percent budget cut for the 2009-2010 fiscal year. “Everything’s on the table,” said Rosa.

A little further north in the city of Sunrise, building proposals are proceeding despite the slowdown and no plans for staffing have been made. “We are looking at all our operations, but at this point we haven’t made any decisions. It’s something we’re going to look at in the budget process,” said city spokeswoman Christine Pfeffer.

To the east in Dania Beach, a drop in commercial and residential development has been steep, said Corinne Lajoie, acting Community Development Director. One position has been vacant for a year since that person retired and most likely will be eliminated. Currently the city has four in-house staffers and four positions are contracted out with Broward County.

However, seven hotels now under development are helping to keep the department self-sufficient and stave off layoffs. “That’s saved us,” said Lojoie.

The city of Miami has cut five vacant positions from the building department and reduced outside contract services, according to city spokeswoman Kelly Penton.

The northern Miami-Dade County city of Aventura contracts out building inspection functions to a private firm and staffing has not been affected, said City Manager Eric Soroka.

“We have privatized the building inspection and review process since the incorporation of the city. Therefore, the downturn has not resulted in any cost cutting measures,” Soroka said.

The city of North Miami Beach has eliminated a few positions through attrition and has consolidated and reorganized some functions, said Mayor Ray Marin. However, more consolidations could be coming this year, he added.

Across Biscayne Bay from Aventura in the city of Sunny Isles Beach, acting City Manager Rick Conner said he has no plans to cut back on the in-house building department staff. “We are feeling the slowdown in construction but have no immediate plans to change the operation. We will continue to assess our needs as the industry hopefully recovers,” said Conner.

So far, Fort Lauderdale’s building department staffing has been unaffected by the slump, said spokeswoman Shannon Vezina. “We have made no major changes. We’ve had enough work to keep everybody busy,” she said.