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Jacksonville was once the best place to get a building permit and now has become one of the worst, according to someone who has been in the building business nearly half a century.

Chip Williams said the deterioration has taken place over the past 25 years and while it is bad in most counties of northeast Florida it is especially bad in Jacksonville.

That’s a problem because it costs money. It costs builders, home buyers and taxpayers.

Delay increases the cost of housing — yet it is politicians who always talk about the need for “affordable housing,” whatever that is.

But delay also means less revenue from permitting fees and less money from property taxes.

Williams said the city is losing millions in fees. One reason is that builders are allowed to use private inspectors and will if they are facing long delays. So, the city loses the inspection fees.

More fees would allow the building department to hire more employees and speed up the process, which seemingly is a Catch-22 because it needs more employees to speed up the process.

But Williams said they could speed up the process without hiring more people. They simply take too long to review the paperwork, he said.

There is no reason for that because essentially the city has amateurs reviewing the work of professionals.

Engineers and other highly trained and qualified people are doing the work that city officials are reviewing. They know what they are doing, Williams said, when the reviewer might have a high school degree.

The professionals also incur the liability for any mistakes – not bureaucrats. In fact, the professionals must insure against liability.

This is the official description of the city’s building permit process: “The activities within this fund are responsible for ensuring that existing and future developments and construction comply with the Florida Building Code and local ordinances. Their primary role is to ensure the safety of buildings and related landscapes by performing inspections and enforcing fire, building, electrical, plumbing, mechanical, and other related city codes, as well as performing reviews of various permit applications and examining plans.”

 Eye on Jacksonville tried to determine from city records how long it takes to issue a permit.

There are performance measures the city uses to show how each city department is doing its work. We assumed that the time taken to issue permits would be one benchmark for the building inspection department.

It’s not.

In the city budget, the target was 14,195 residential permits to be issued in 2020, or fewer than 1,200 per month. But there is no record kept, apparently, of how long it takes to get a permit issued.

Williams said it takes about three months, based on his experience. “My frustration level is at about Defcon 3,” he said.

Eye would have interviewed someone from the building department to get their viewpoint, but Boss Lenny Curry does not allow anyone from the city government to talk to Eye on Jacksonville because we have expressed views of which he does not approve.

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Lloyd was born in Jacksonville. Graduated from the University of North Florida. He spent nearly 50 years of his life in the newspaper business …beginning as a copy boy and retiring as editorial page editor for Florida Times Union. He has also been published in a number of national newspapers and magazines, as well as Internet sites. Married with children. Military Vet. Retired. Man of few words but the words are researched well, deeply considered and thoughtfully written.

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