SIERRA VISTA — While looking for new ways to prepare for continuing decreases in funding while expenses continue upward, Cochise County leaders will not discount concerns from the contracting community, Cochise County Administrator Mike Ortega told a gathering of contractors and construction industry leaders on Wednesday.

The regular monthly meeting of the Southeastern Arizona Contractors Association at the Pueblo Del Sol Country Club saw its guest speaker provide an overview of issues facing the county and the various ways being explored to mitigate their impact.

In the last year, Cochise County government lost nearly $900,000 in revenue due to dropping property values, Ortega said.

“Sierra Vista accounts for about 40 percent of the assessed values in the county. Sierra Vista’s values have dropped anywhere from 5, to 10, 12 percent,” he said.

In the past, such as in 2007 when the turnover rate for the county was 25 percent, this impact could have been more easily absorbed through a tightening of hiring practices and attrition. However, as of 2011, turnover has come to nearly a complete halt.

“So attrition all of a sudden is no longer an option for us,” Ortega said.

Further challenges in the form of the expiration of the temporary one-cent sale tax in October and the projected costs of health care coverage in 2014/2015 — “The days of seeing health care insurance go up by 4 or 5 percent are gone. We’ll be looking at 10 to 12 percent increases per year,” — have lead the county to consider various ways of doing more with less.

One such idea, self-certification of building plans among contractors, received a strong response from SACA members, Ortega said.

“Basically, it gives you, a registered contractor and/or a registered engineer/architect, an opportunity to certify that those plans meet the applicable codes, and get a permit for that, without any review and/or inspection,” he said.

If and when it is approved by the board of supervisors, participation in self-certification would be voluntary.

Still, as a general rule, the best contractors would rather see more inspections from the county, not less, said SACA President Mike Rutherford, “because that raises the bar for the people they are bidding against. To the contractors who want to do everything right, that’s critical.”

Should a dispute arise between a contractor and owner on a self-certified project, one of the only resources available to help solve the dispute is the Registrar of Contractors, a state organization already suffering from large cuts to funding and staffing levels.

Having county inspectors provides a faster means of solving any potential disputes, he said.

Ortega said the concerns he has heard from SACA members on the issue have not gone unnoticed, causing him to slow down and consider the issue more closely before it is brought before the board of supervisors.

“Because the world we were living in before has changed, and this is just one opportunity for us to think through maybe doing business differently,” he said. “It wasn’t just about saving money. Quite frankly, it was about being responsive to the contractor, engineer and architect’s needs.”

Now is the time, while there is a lull in building permits, to try some of these new ideas, he said, so that when things pick up, the county is better suited to take on the additional workload with its reduced staffing levels.

“I would like for there to be processes that are so streamlined that we don’t have to staff up and go back to the days of old,” Ortega said.

While it remains his duty to “push the conversation” forward to the board of supervisors, Ortega assured those in attendance that their concerns have not gone unnoticed.

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