Riverside trustees moved to shore up the village’s understaffed community development department last month, approving a two-year contract with TPI Building Code Consultants to provide plan review and building inspection services.

The contract calls for TPI to be paid $135,000 annually for providing a certified building plan reviewer or master code professional onsite two days per week. Contractors from TPI will carry out building, mechanical, plumbing, electrical and property maintenance inspections as needed, and a TPI employee will be responsible for carrying out inspections related to Riverside’s new rental registry program for 2022.

“It’s extremely common in the region to use a service like this,” Assistant Village Manager Ashley Monroe, who oversees the community development department, told trustees at their Feb. 17 meeting.

Monroe said the village interviewed four firms who responded to a request for proposals last December, calling TPI “the best fit for the village both in general cost of services and the flexibility and quality of services that they’re able to provide to us.”

The agreement allows Riverside to extend the contract for one year twice, but the village has the ability to discontinue using TPI contractors during the term of the deal if it hires an in-house plan reviewer or inspectors in the future.

Riverside has been attempting to fill those positions, without success, for more than a year. The village has not had a building inspector on staff since December 2020 and essentially had no one on staff in the department during nearly the first half of 2021.

Monroe arrived in mid-June to lead the department and work on getting it staffed. The department hired Francisco Jimenez as its first-ever village planner in August but was frustrated in repeated attempts to hire staff to perform permit reviews and building inspections.

 In the meantime, Riverside has used a third-party contractor called Lakeside Consultants to plug the gap. In 2021, Riverside paid Lakeside Consulting about $120,000 for building code review and inspection services. There was not a formal agreement between the two parties, but Riverside used the firm’s services three days a week.

While the help was essential, the arrangement wasn’t perfect and led to complaints about slow turnaround times for building permit applications.

Last December, Monroe made a presentation about the situation upon the request of elected officials at a meeting of the village board. A pair of charts Monroe shared with trustees showed that it took more than a week to approve most permit applications, but more complex, higher-value projects could take three months or more.

Last fall, Lakeside Consultants informed Riverside it would be discontinuing those services after mid-February 2022, prompting village officials to seek an alternative.

The reliance on third-party consultants in 2021 resulted in community development department expenditures exceeding its budget by almost $60,000, according to general fund budget summary report from the end of 2021.

Riverside hired two people to fill the staff roles of “residential services representative” to do permit data entry and inspection scheduling to shorten the time it takes to process permits. TPI personnel will respond to those seeking information about building and code issues either when they’re onsite or via phone and email.

“The village as a whole will benefit from the availability of these services and extension of a technical knowledge base, because this supplement will allow village staff to focus on their everyday responsibilities,” Monroe wrote in a memo to the village board regarding the use of a third-party service last month.

While the amount of the contract is notable, fees the village charges for building permits and inspections cover most of that cost, Monroe said. The expense may also be reduced as the village brings any staff inspectors aboard and when building permit activity wanes during different times of the year.