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Minneapolis moving ahead on reorganization of Regulatory Services

The job of reorganizing Minneapolis’ Department of Regulatory Services is moving ahead but is by no means complete.

“The framework is there. The plan to move in that direction is there. We’re just looking now for internal barriers and other issues we haven’t anticipated,” said City Coordinator Paul Aasen after presenting the plan last week to members of the Ways and Means/Budget Committee.

The idea — advanced by Mayor R.T. Rybak, in his 2013 budget address — is to create a one-stop shop for developers. The plan also will save some money, but that was not the goal.

The goal is to make it easier for someone who wants to build or remodel something in Minneapolis.

The mayor’s 2013 budget calls for spending $21.7 million on Regulatory Services and $81.9 million on Community Planning and Economic Development.

“We think that putting together more of the various processes that someone needs to go through to build something in the city — under the same staff, as part of the same team — that the experience for the business owner will be more predictable, more streamlined and clearer for them at the end of the day,” said Jeremy Hanson Willis, director of Community Planning and Economic Development.

“If this is just about moving boxes on an organization chart, we have failed,” said Hanson Willis, whose department will add 110 staff members from three divisions currently in Regulatory Services. The addition will nearly double the department, which currently has 114 full-time-equivalent employees.

What we know now is that all nine functions in the current Regulatory Services Department have been assigned to one of three new homes: Community Planning and Economic Development, the new Inspections Department and a renamed Health Department.

Here’s a look at the planned reorganization:

• Traffic Control, the folks who hand out parking tickets and direct traffic at major events, was thought to be headed to either the Police Department or Public Works. Instead, it ends up in Inspections..

• Construction Code Services, which reviews construction plans before permits are issued and does job site inspections, will move to Community Planning and Economic Development. It joins Development Review and Business Licensing, which are also currently in Regulatory Services.

Currently, developers start in Community Planning and Economic Development, where they are introduced to land use, zoning and historical preservation requirements. Next, they move to Regulatory Services, where the focus is on the inside of the building — plumbing and electrical, for example — and onsite inspections.

“The bulk of the energy is into realigning and creating opportunities to do better business down the road,” said Aasen, who estimated that the reorganization would save about $300,000 by eliminating three management positions.

• The new Inspections Department will have 135 full-time-equivalent employees — not quite half of the 293 currently in Regulatory Services.

• Fire Inspections will move from the Fire Department to Inspections, where they will be joined by the fire marshal, who will report directly to the new director of Inspections and to Fire Chief John Fruetel. 

Council members have questioned the idea of the fire marshal having to report to two supervisors.

“I’m going to expect the fire marshal to report to me [and] to communicate with Regulatory Services,” Fruetel said. The system, he said, could be helpful in giving firefighters the chance to to see the insides of buildings before they are called there for a fire.

Aasen defended the dual reporting system as an attempt to build a bridge between the Fire Department and city inspectors.

• So, the final tally for the Inspections Department — or what is left of Regulatory Services — includes housing inspections, problem properties, animal control, fire inspections and traffic control.

• The last move involves Environmental Management, which writes environment ordinances and programs and enforces the city’s environmental codes. Its  staff of 39 full-time-equivalents would transfer from Regulatory Services to the Health and Family Support Department. That department, which currently has about 50 full-time equivalents, wants to simplify its name to become the Health Department.

Agreement on the location of the newly assigned functions has implications for resolving issues around the 2013 budget, which is expected to be approved Dec. 12 following a public hearing.

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