LYNN — City Councilors say complaints are mounting from contractors who insist the decision to reduce the building department’s hours is bad for business.
Facing a backlog of permit applications and fewer staff, Michael Donovan, the city’s Inspectional Services Department director, will trim the agency’s hours by a third.
“He (Donovan) has the right to manage his own department but to cut down 12 hours a week, that is putting a burden on the public,” said City Council President Darren Cyr.
Starting in January, the service counter will be closed from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m Monday through Thursday. Donovan said he hopes the new hours will be limited to the first quarter of next year.
“Given the budget cuts, we can only make due with what we have,” Donovan said. “The loss of a clerk and a supervisor has put us behind and we’re trying to catch up.”
The busy office has four clerks, he said, but one is required to answer phones during the shift, reducing counter help to three persons. At one time, there were six staffers to manage the applications, he said. In addition, he said the loss of Clint Muche, deputy building commissioner, whose contract was not renewed this year, has also created a hardship.
“I’m doing his job in addition to my own,” he said. “I was told the position will go unfilled.”
While the office is closed during those 12 hours over four days, Donovan said staff will be free to issue dozens of backlogged permits.
Cyr expressed outrage over what he called a “surprise cut” in services.
“Contractors expect to be able to walk in to City Hall during business hours,” he said. “Taxpayers are paying our salaries and they have a right to the services … I want to get to the bottom of this.”
Mayor Thomas M. McGee was unaware of the reduced hours, said Cyr, who learned about it in the last few days.
“When Mike (Donovan) submitted his ISD budget at the beginning of the fiscal year, when the budget was discussed, he didn’t put in for more hires,” Cyr said.
But Donovan has a different recollection of events. He said reduced hours should not have been a surprise to anyone at City Hall.
During a City Council hearing on the budget in June that was reported in The Item, Donovan told the panel he will be unable to provide the same level of service without more staff.
In addition, Donovan provided The Item with a letter dated in February to the city’s comptroller, chief financial officer, and the mayor’s chief of staff, which outlined a grim future for the department.
“Without filling some of or all of these positions, services delivered to the community will continue to be substandard and accumulated backlogs will grow…,” Donovan wrote.
But Cyr insists ISD has a responsibility to be open during regular hours.
“We are shorthanded everywhere, but everyone is managing with staffing shortages,” he said. “There are several new developments coming up on the Lynnway and the building department has to be available. The building department generates revenue for the city, and to shut it down for three hours a day for three months, is unacceptable.”
McGee did not return calls seeking comment.