With all the capital improvement projects being bandied about in this year’s budget discussions I thought it might be useful to take a look at what government is already doing with our taxpayer dollars on capital improvement projects, so I took a little field trip to the Development Services Building today. Every new public building these days seems to be awfully expensive, with all sorts of features I wouldn’t expect to see if anyone was trying to control costs, and to me it seemed like a logical place to start in understanding why this is is to get copies of some building plans. The design of these buildings might help explain why they’re costing taxpayers so darned much, and even if you’re not an architect if you spend a bit of time with a set of plans you can get a good idea of how complex a project is, why it might be expensive, and how it could have been designed in a more cost-effective manner.
When you go into the Development Services Building the first thing you do is talk to the guy at the help desk, and this guy is the very epitome of what a public servant should be. The guy was genuinely friendly and helpful, and figured it might save me time if he looked up the building permit number for the project I was interested in, which he did. If half the people in county government were as good as this guy, especially in executive leadership, we’d hardly have any problems at all in local government. So with this, I was off to a great start.
Once my number was called I went over to one of the windows and chatted with a nice lady and explained what I was looking for. The project that attracted my interest is in the last phases of construction, so the plans would certainly be readily available and not shuttled off to some archive. She checked on some papers and informed me that copies of building plans are $125 and each sheet copied would cost me $15. Really? I know she had no discretion in this matter, but what in the heck is going on here? These are the building plans for a public building, I’m the one paying for the building and the architectural plans, and it’s going to cost me $125 right off the bat to see the products of my own tax dollars that show how my tax dollars are being used?
No wonder there are ever so few questions about why public buildings cost taxpayers so much.
I also walked over to the mapping department to pick up an updated map of the precincts and magisterial districts in the county. Nice people there, also. Very nice. They apologized profusely about how their network had gone down once again and left me waiting about twenty minutes before they could see me, even though we’re paying $3.5 million a year for local network and server management, excluding equipment costs. They charge $7.50 per sheet to print a map out on their large format printer, which is the same printer that would be used to print a sheet from a building plan that I’d get charged $15 for and the map is slightly larger than a plan sheet. Go figure.
Anyways, I did manage to find out that you can inspect building plans without having to pay the $125, but you can’t take them over to mapping to have them make copies for you. You have to stand there in a little plan review room with your iPhone trying to snap pictures of portions of these large sheets of paper like you’re some kind of secret agent on a spy mission. How ridiculous. We can let you see what you paid for, but if you want a copy of one sheet of this plan you need to fork over $140.00.
It does after all is said and done, seem strangely fitting to feel like you’re on some sort of spy mission. Government is spending your money and doing whatever it can to make it difficult for you to understand exactly what it is doing with that money. If citizens weren’t charged exorbitant fees to get copies of the plans that they already paid for they might start actually looking at those plans and questioning why local government decided to create such extraordinary monuments.
They might also start asking questions about why government doesn’t seem to be restrained by the same requirements that are imposed on private landowners in the county, but that’s a story that I’ll save for a later post.
The opinions expressed here are solely the views of the author, and not representative of the position of any organization, political party, doughnut shop, knitting guild, or waste recycling facility, but may be correctly attributed to the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy. If anything in the above article has offended you, please click here to receive an immediate apology.
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