Licking County commissioners voted Monday to create a countywide department that would replace the one being abandoned by the city for financial reasons. The smaller county department would handle residential and commercial inspections and issue building permits but would save money by using on-call employees for some of the work.  Mayor Bob Diebold said closing the city’s department would free up money that could be channeled toward Newark’s 2-year-old property maintenance division, which has been hamstrung by understaffing.

He said he thought City Council members would be open to the idea of creating more positions to handle complaints and code enforcement.”Everyone on council knows what issues we are facing,” Diebold said. “We can’t keep up with one inspector.” Newark Safety Director Roger Stollard is working on a proposal for a beefed-up property maintenance division but did not want to present any plans until a county building code department was assured.

In addition to more staff, Diebold said it was important to revisit parts of the property maintenance ordinance to shorten the time between complaints, notifications and enforcement.  Diebold and Stollard have been the city’s principal property inspectors since late July, when the lone property maintenance official was laid off.  Commissioner Brad Feightner said the county department should be in business by early January and is expected to be self-sufficient after initial start-up costs for salaries, office materials and vehicles.  T

he county has set aside $350,000 for salaries for the first year, said Commissioner Doug Smith.Newark’s department brought in more than $430,000 from inspection and permit fees through mid-August.  Monday’s vote creates four full-time positions: an administrator, chief building inspector, plans examiner and administrative assistant.  Closing the city code department frees up money for its property maintenance division.