Pickerington City Council is expected to finalize a contract next month with a Columbus-based architectural firm for building department services.

Pickerington City Council is expected to finalize a contract next month with a Columbus-based architectural firm for building department services.

Since Chet Hopper resigned as Pickerington's chief building official on Nov. 1, the city has been without an in-house administrator to conduct field inspections, examine building plans, manage building department records or enforce building codes.

To fill that void, the city has contracted with Asebrook & Co. Architects LLC. According to City Manager Bill Vance, the city has paid the company, on average, $6,000 to $9,000 per month through permit and inspection fees paid by businesses and individuals.

Now, city officials are moving forward with a plan to keep Asebrook & Co. in place through the end of next year.

Council on March 6 unanimously passed the first reading of legislation to contract with the company on an as-needed basis through Dec. 31, 2013.

A second reading of the legislation was expected to be passed after ThisWeek's press time on March 20, paving the way for council to finalize the contract with Asebrook & Co. at its April 3 regular meeting.

"The city of Pickerington will continue to utilize the revenues associated with building permit fees to retain the contracted services of however many building inspectors our city needs at any given time to provide great and timely professional service to all those paying those fees for services," Vance said. "If we need 25 inspectors, we can get 25 building inspectors. If we need no building inspectors, then we do not have to request those services from our contractor on any given day.

"Asebrook has had a continuing professional services contract with the city of Pickerington for a couple years now," he added. "This contractual arrangement was just extended and it remains my understanding that other companies will be pursuing such an arrangement with Pickerington. If their services are needed above and beyond what Asebrook can provide us, then they may get a chance to assist Pickerington with its provision of our professional building inspection and plan review services, as well."

Hopper was paid an annual salary of $75,000 at the time of his resignation.

Under the terms of the proposed contract with Asebrook & Co., the city will pay $65 to $95 for various building department services, including plan reviews and building inspections. The city also will pay company employees 51 cents per mile for travel related to work for Pickerington.

"Asebrook gets paid a monthly amount based upon the monthly amount of services they provide to the city," Vance said. "This amount averages between $6,000 (to) $9,000 per month and is paid entirely by those needing the services which Asebrook is contracted to provide on the city's behalf.

"Pickerington's building department is fiscally self-sufficient, which is a rarity in local government these days."

According to information provided by Vance, the city has issued 94 building permits in 2012 for construction valued at approximately $2.97 million.

The city has collected approximately $40,510 in permit fees this year, and conducted 192 building inspections, according to Vance. There also have been 12 permits issued for new, single-family homes and the city has collected $47, 313 in impact fees this year, the building report stated.

Councilman Jeff Fix, who chairs council's city projects, planning and services committee, said he supports hiring Asebrook & Co. because it's an efficient way to manage Pickerington's building department needs.

"I'm in favor of outsourcing these responsibilities at this time because it allows the city to be flexible in handling building department services," Fix said. "By using Asebrook under contract, we are able to provide the highest level of professional services without having to pay for those services when they are not needed.

"It's a financial equation that is really quite simple."

As for replacing Hopper, Vance said the city has advertised for the post, but has yet to find a suitable candidate.

"The city will continue to accept applications from those seeking this post and when the right fit is potentially found, Pickerington's city manager would seek an opportunity to hire the right person," Vance said. "We have been seeking this right fit for months now, so there is no guarantee this position will be filled by a credentialed and certified Ohio building official any time soon.

"Until then, Pickerington will continue to provide the highest levels of building inspection and plan review services in central Ohio."