Huntington Town officials are working to revamp its building permit application process to cut down on wait times that have now reached months.
Town Supervisor Chad Lupinacci said his administration is taking steps to address the backlog, which some contractors and business owners say is impacting their livelihood.
"Right now we’re meeting regularly with IT and our building department to determine a real solution, not just a Band-Aid," he said.
Lupinacci, a Republican, blames the delays on several factors: the in-person and mail-in application intake process, COVID-19-related shutdowns, employee illness, and state-mandated limits on staffing levels.
The town is considering online submission of applications and updating workflow software, and a proposal to hire outside parties for permit review will be on the Feb. 23 town board meeting agenda.
Michael Liegey of Huntington, who has been in the construction business for 40 years, says the delays are threatening the viability of his business.
"I can’t work, I can’t make any money," he said. "They have an archaic system. In the year 2021 everything is done online; there's absolutely no reason for me to go to Town Hall."
The building department was shut down three times since the onset of the pandemic — once for two weeks in March, and twice for one day. Lupinacci said leaves granted based on COVID-19 rules and an increase in applications possibly because of a hot housing market have also contributed to delays.
Permit examiners take in an application, review it and pass it on to the plans examiners. Before the pandemic the whole process took between six to nine weeks, with the intake usually taking only a day.
"Right now the process is about eight weeks for permit intake due to the 2020 backlog and the plans review process is still about the same time frame as before," Lupinacci said.
He said the town normally has five full-time permit examiners and one part-time permit examiner and four full-time plans examiners. Staffing was down to three permit examiners for six months in 2020, then for two months the office only had one permit examiner because of pandemic restrictions.
Town board member Mark Cuthbertson, a Democrat, said the breakdown was inevitable.
"I criticized the failure to hire an engineering professional to run the building department and we have now seen the predictable consequences of that failure," he said.
Dan Martin, 73, a former judge who runs the building department, was named director of engineering services in 2018. Earlier that year he had been appointed deputy town attorney.
Cuthbertson at the time questioned Martin’s credentials for the engineering services position. Martin is a former Huntington Town Republican leader.
Christopher Dee said his architect submitted plans for a building permit to do renovations at a 1920s building he owns at 333 Main St. in downtown Huntington last October and heard from the town at the end of January that the application was moving forward.
"Nobody there seems to care, and they never have any answers," said Dee, who worked in the building department in the early 1990s. "They're all full of excuses about coronavirus and the staffing."