Not enough eyes, ears, says panel chair of possibly adding inspectors

WAILUKU – The Maui County Council and Department of Public Works will consider adding new inspectors for plan review, permit processing and project inspections and float the idea in upcoming county budget meetings around the island, officials said at the council Infrastructure and Environmental Management Committee meeting Monday.

“We felt there wasn’t enough eyes and ears out there during the last budget hearings (in May),” committee Chairwoman Elle Cochran said after the meeting. “We had a concern with the Kapalua Mauka project, where the gentleman (inspector) was on vacation or sick so they didn’t have anyone (on site). Things could be occurring that need to be addressed or they may not be doing things properly because no inspector was there.”

“We don’t have enough (inspectors) to go around,” she said.

Currently, there is only one building inspector for both the West Maui and Lanai areas, according to Public Works Director David Goode. Countywide, there are between 20 and 25 inspectors, whose expertise includes building, plumbing, electrical and roadwork and grading.

Goode said that there are currently no plans in the department’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year to hire any new inspectors or to appropriate more funds for these services.

“We’re not looking to add any inspectors. Right now, we’re meeting our demands for permits,” Goode said. “Occasionally, we get frustrated with complaints, which are a lot of times frivolous neighbor-on-neighbor beefs or tenant disputes.”

Even though the number of building and electrical permits has been trending upward for the last four years, Goode said his staff of inspectors has been able to keep up with the increased workload, though the “Request for Service” program, which collects community complaints, has become cumbersome.

“From a morale perspective, our team doesn’t enjoy doing it,” Goode said, adding that the work usually involves digging through old records, referring unresolved issues to other departments and writing letters. “It creates a significant workload. . . . Our inspectors want to do electrical work, not hunt through old permit records.”

In 2010, the department received 1,700 service requests, but last year, the department received 2,174 requests. So far this year, the department has received about 1,900 requests, Goode said.

Even with the growing number of impeding requests, Goode believes that his department could get a handle on the situation by updating and digitizing departmental records and by training one individual, already on staff, to handle the requests.

Cochran said the item will be discussed in the council budget hearings next year. The item was deferred.

* Eileen Chao can be reached at