Public Works playing catch-up


HILO — County offices in both Hilo and Kona are now closed to new building permit applications half a day per week to help Public Works clerks clear up backlogs.

The practice closes the Hilo office to permit applications from noon to closing on Wednesdays and the Kona office the same hours on Thursdays. Public Works Director Warren Lee said the department started closing the offices to applications June 27, and it plans to continue into the foreseeable future.

Lee said closing the service counters to new permit applications allows the three permitting clerks and one supervisor in each of the two offices some uninterrupted time to process the plans that have already been filed and returned from the plan review process. An analysis of the process showed a bottleneck there because clerks were too busy accepting new permits to deal with the ones piling up on their desks, he said.

“It creates a steady flow process,” Lee said. “Human nature being what it is, they see someone waiting at the counter, they want to go help them instead.”

Mayor Billy Kenoi, who has been touting the new streamlined building code process as an accomplishment of his first term, said Thursday that he wouldn’t call the problem a “backlog.” He said it was a “strategic alignment of the review stream.”

“It’s just to review the streamlined effectiveness, not to address any backlog,” Kenoi said.

There were 38.2 percent fewer building permits last year than in 2008, when Kenoi took office, according to the Hawaii County Data Book. Lee said there is the same number of clerks.

During the first three months of this year, the latest data available, building permits are up 8.7 percent over the same period last year. But Lee said the numbers don’t reflect the almost doubling of electrical permit applications for photovoltaic systems that homeowners and businesses are putting on their structures.

Those have increased from 972 in 2011 to 1,036 the first seven months of this year alone, he said.

Permits for plumbing work and signs are also not reflected in the numbers, he said.

Lee said there were a few grumbles from people bringing in their permits on the disallowed afternoons in the beginning, but he thinks everyone has adjusted, and his office hasn’t had complaints lately.