The Idaho Division of Building Safety was one of the first state agencies to feel the brunt of the economic downturn, according to administrator Kelly Pearce. The agency, which runs safety inspections in new and existing building, gets much of its funding because of new construction.
“The construction industry almost overnight stopped,” Pearce said. “When the construction activity in the state of Idaho had its downturn with the economy that brought about an immediate economic impact within the agency … That means we’ve got less work within the agency than we previously had because construction activity has slowed.” He said the agency has chosen to meet its shrinking budget and workload with layoffs rather than unpaid furloughs. “By layoff, we can dramatically reduce in a year the actual cost of employees to the agency,” he said. The division currently has 24 vacant positions. Pearce said, as an example, that each layoff could save $8,400 a year in health benefits. Furloughs, which would reduce hours for workers but not the number of employees, wouldn’t have that savings.
Pearce said spending by the department has dropped from more than $12 million in fiscal year 2008 to an expected $9.98 million in the current fiscal year 2010 budget. Gov. Butch Otter is recommending the agency get $11.5 million in the next budget, none of it coming from state general funds. Pearce said the agency has underspent its appropriation for the last six years.
While state building inspectors felt the economic recession early, they may also feel the recovery sooner than most. “As the economy improves, and it will, we will be the first ones out of the economic situation,” Pearce said. He said when that happens, the division will start hiring more workers. The governor is recommending eliminating 11 of the 24 vacancies, and Pearce asked lawmakers not to eliminate any extra openings. “We’ve demonstrated to you that we can be fiscally responsible in managing the agency,” he said. Trimming those state positions now could limit the agency’s expansion in the future. “When that upturn takes place, we’re going to immediately have a need to bring on inspectors to keep the flow of commerce going in the state of Idaho.”
Pearce finished his remarks to lawmakers by linking the need for building inspectors with the destruction of buildings after the recent earthquake in Haiti. “Haiti is devoid of building code or building inspectors,” he said. “We have a responsibility to the people in the state of Idaho. That responsibility is safety, and we plan to do all we can to can to promote that activity.”