County Zoning Inspections and Enforcement Lagging

Consultant says there’s ‘no hope of catching up’ at current staffing levels

The Door County Board of Supervisors will decide, March 26, whether to hire two full time employees for the Land Use Services department to catch up with zoning inspections and violations.

“At the current staff levels and ‘average’ levels of productivity, there is no hope for catching up; the department simply issues more permits than it can realistically close out with certificates of compliance,” according to the findings from BoldPath Consultants, a firm the county hired to assess the operations of its Land Use Services department.

Based on data from the past 11 years, the department issues roughly 625 zoning permits annually (the range is 455 to 747), nearly all requiring a final inspection to certify compliance. The department, however, averages about 190 certificates of compliance annually over the same 11-year span, “but that number has tapered off significantly over the last four years,” according to the consultant’s findings.

“Similarly, the pursuit, investigation and follow-up related to known violations and complaints is also troubling,” the consultants found. “The best testament provided by the department is that roughly 400 known violations and complaints are still awaiting investigation. Furthermore, when the department begins chipping away at the compliance inspection backlog, it is to be expected that they will inevitably find many more violations.”

That will not only impact Land Use Services, but will inundate the Corporation Counsel’s Office with work, the consultants wrote.

Other challenges discovered within the department pertained to the transition to new software (“the ongoing issues extend beyond typical teething problems of a new system,” the consultants wrote); data reporting and transparency issues; a shortfall in cross-training, hindered by departmental turnover and the impact of the pandemic; and future turnover, with at least five, near-future retirements in an 11-person department, presenting “a critical strategic threat,” according to the report.

Among the recommendations are a series of goal-based actions, primary among those the hiring of two, full-time employees, and a shift in the department’s focus to the backlog. The goal puts the Senior Zoning Administrator on backlog reduction for at least the first 12 months, with a goal of reducing it by 15-20% the first year, and developing a three-to-five-year plan for its elimination.

A work plan overview shared with the county’s Administrative Committee, March 19, predicted the department would be caught up on zoning permit compliance inspections by the end of 2029 with the two new positions, new actions and organizational restructuring. Ken Pabich, Door County Administrator, created a new organizational chart, approved by the Administrative Committee, March 19, that has Land Information Services (Real Property Listing and GIS/LIO departments) reporting to the County Administrator rather than the Land Use Services director.

The Land Use Services department has numerous responsibilities, including the administration and zoning enforcement of the Door County Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance in all areas of nine towns; the Shoreland Zoning Ordinance and the Door County Floodplain Zoning Ordinance in all 14 Door County towns; the height limitation and land division ordinances; and the uniform addressing system ordinance. This includes oversight and administration of the sanitarian’s office that regulates private onsite wastewater treatment systems throughout Door County. 

A report prepared by Mariah Goode, Land Use Services Director, shows the total staffing levels within her department have decreased each year starting in 2007, with 18.9 full-time employees and one limited term employee in 2007, to 11.4 full time employees in 2023 with no limited term employees.

The County Board of Supervisors deferred hiring decisions back in November 2023 for Land Use Services when it was dealing with employee raises in preparation for adoption of the 2024 budget. At that time, Pabich said they would hire a consultant to determine need. 

The resolution that will head to the Door County Board of Supervisors for their March 26 meeting requests two full-time, zoning administrator/assistant sanitarian positions. An existing zoning administrator/assistant sanitarian is expected to leave within two-to-three years, and that position would not be refilled.

The fiscal impact of the two new positions on the 2024 budget, with the money coming from the Payroll Contingency account, is $78,400, leaving a balance in that fund of $4.26 million, according to the resolution.