COEUR d'ALENE — When Michael Huffman describes North Idaho, beautiful and no-nonsense are his usual sentiments.
The erstwhile Marine and retired aerospace engineer is so keen on the area, he wants to build a home on his Summit Bay property.
But Huffman, 66, can't get a building permit. He says he's been waiting for months, citing a staff shortage in Kootenai County's building division.
"I would like to have a home built in a timely fashion. It's a cluster," said Huffman, who lived in the area for nearly a decade. "People who want to build homes are becoming quite frustrated.”
Community Development Director Dave Callahan and Commissioner Dan Green confirmed the staff shortage and said they’re looking to rectify the situation. Callahan said the Community Development Office’s staff of 26 has five vacancies — four belonging to the 10-member building division.
The building division has 100 permit requests; 40 of them incomplete.
"With the loss of our chief building official (Robert Ankersmit), I have had to appoint the only full-time plan review person we have, John Mills, to serve as our acting chief building official," Callahan said. "Of course, this means he can’t devote himself to only doing building plan review. Instead, now he is making sure the division continues to move along in all of the other required functions."
To fill the gap, the county has hired two out-of-state companies for plan reviews, including Safebuilt in Colorado and Willdan, a California company. Callahan said he’s also hoping to hire two people on a part-time basis, and noted that after recently stepping down, Ankersmit will also help part-time.
"It's a temporary problem," Callahan said. "It's going to get better, but it won't get better overnight."
Callahan said permit requests are at an all-time high. Green said he hasn't seen this kind of demand since the area's building boom from 2005-2007.
"We're hiring out-of-state companies because we're falling behind. There's a push to get stuff in the ground,” Green said.
He said with the building boom, county building staff members can make more money as superintendents working for private building companies, and that it’s a problem in other areas of the state.
Huffman, for one, isn't thrilled about Kootenai County seeking help from a company based in the Golden State.
"If you start sending plans to California... . Look, I'm 66. I don't think I'll be alive when they get around to me," Huffman joked.