By Bob Balgemann

The city’s building director, Kip Countryman, finds construction-related numbers encouraging to the point that he sees an uptick in the local economy, as the 2021-22 fiscal year nears an end.

He gives monthly updates on construction activity to the committee of the whole, public works, but this time, on March 14, he also unveiled the building department budget for the 2022-23 fiscal year, which will begin May 1.

That department’s revenue and expenses are housed under the overall umbrella of community development.

As the director began his presentation, Alderman Marsha Freeman asked for a current recap of “where we are at, the (actual) budget for fiscal year 22 (2021-22).”

Countryman replied, “When we began discussing the (2022-23) budget, we were proposing to beat that (2021-22 budget) pretty good. Building permits, budgeted at $165,000 (this year), were budgeted to bring in $200,000 during 2022-23. (That would be the most revenue since 2016-17, when such permits generated $235,547. That income dipped to $123,000 in 2019-20).

“We were at 80-85 percent of what we had proposed back in February (2021-22),” he added. “We’re projecting a 21 percent increase for the new year.”

In addition, he said, “Electrical permits are expected to increase by 20 percent, based on what we’re seeing in the housing” activity.

Alderman Dan Snow wondered if having the state plumber doing inspections for the city was working satisfactorily, “or is this something we do need to keep trying, to secure our own in-house inspections in order to meet the rising demand that potentially is coming.”

“I’m always looking for plumbing inspectors,” Countryman said. “It’s not easy to find a certified, licensed plumber that’s retired, or that because the trades are so busy right now, they don’t want to mess with doing two, or three or four inspections a week.

“He’s (state inspector) also handling Boone County. It’s kind of set up to where the contractors know which days he’s in the area. And so far he’s handling that (demand). But we’re budgeting (in 2022-23) for a plumbing inspector.”

He added, “The city is not charging for plumbing inspections since the state is completing them (at no charge). The intent is (still) to hire a new plumbing inspector for the city.”

HVAC permits are expected to increase 80 percent, from $5,000 to $9,000, he continued, which is for heating and cooling mechanical.

Alderman Snow wondered why there was such a large jump in those permits, from the current year to the new budget year. “I realize things are increasing, but what was the rationale for doubling that one as opposed to 21 percent on a bunch of the other ones?”

“The original (revenue) projection was low,” Countryman answered. “So, we just kind of caught it up. When the projections came in, we were averaging 12-13 (new) houses a year. We did 62 last year and probably will be in that ballpark this year. So, those numbers are being adjusted for that.”

Building department expenses are being budgeted for $477,000, down a bit from the current $479,000.

To that, Alderman Freeman asked, “Do we not employ a couple of part-time electricians and plumbing inspectors?

City Attorney Mike Drella interjected, “That’s actually an independent contractor.”

“I believe it’s (expense) under contractual services,” Countryman clarified.

Plan update

Current work in updating the city’s comprehensive plan was brought up at that point, with Community Development Planner Gina DelRose explaining those plans are supposed to be redone every years. But Belvidere’s last update was in 1999, “so we are surely outdated. Especially now with all the RFPs (requests for proposal) that Growth Dimensions is getting.”

She added that “staff is getting phone calls from interested developers and I’ve already heard a few times, ‘Well, I looked online and saw your comp plan and this (proposed project) doesn’t work. So I’m not sure if I should even be calling you,’ because our plan is so outdated. I don’t want a bad comp plan possibly scaring away potential development. It should have been redone a long time ago.”

Snow asked how the city’s comprehensive plan related to the Boone County comp plan?

“They are not required to mirror each other,” Planner DelRose responded. “The county redid theirs six years ago. We did have one meeting with the county during their review process, to try and let them know what we anticipated ours would look like at that time, so they wouldn’t be conflicting as much. We also talked with the city of Rockford, because they’re working on theirs and were wondering what ours would potentially look like. So, again, there’s no conflicting.”

At that point Alderman Ric Brereton returned to an earlier reference by DelRose to Growth Dimensions, the marketing arm of the county, its city and villages. The city allocates money each year toward operation of that public-private organization, and he wondered how that amount “fell into this (new city) budget?”

“I believe there’s an economic development line item in the back (of the proposed) budget that would probably fall under more of the general fund stuff,” she replied.

“Thanks,” Alderman Brereton said. “I don’t want to miss it” during the upcoming, overall city 2022-23 budget discussions.

Belvidere’s 2021-22 allocation to Growth Dimensions was $55,000, same as in prior years, and it was proposed to remain the same in the 2022-23 spending plan.

But at the next committee of the whole meeting, on March 28, Alderman Brereton would move to reduce it to $30,000. He ultimately withdrew the motion after it was pointed out additional conversation was likely at upcoming meetings, leading to giving final approval to the 2022-23 spending plan that must occur before May 1.

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