Thursday, December 9, 2021

Berko Moves Building Services Forward



By Steve “Stef” Stefanides

For many city residents they quickly identify the benefits provided to them from the various city departments. If they play senior softball or take their kids to Mackle Park they quickly identify with those employees that work for Parks and Recreation.

They see police officers on patrol or have an occasion to call for service they interact with those professionals and can see the benefits. The same applies for members of the Marco Fire-Rescue team, should they have need of their services.

Turn your faucet on at the sink in the morning to brush your teeth and if you don’t have water you are quick to go to the phone and call the Marco Island Utility Department to find out what is going on.

However, within the city there is a department that most individuals are not aware of, unless of course you are planning to build a new house, make alterations to a commercial space for a new business, upgrade your present residence or make a number of other improvements or build anything on the island.

That department is the city’s Building Services Department located at city hall. That department has been under the direction of Joseph Berko for the last year. Previous to coming to Marco Island, Berko had spent almost 7 years as the Deputy Building Official for the City of Naples and also had his own private firm.

“Joe came to us as a highly recommend individual and possessed the skill sets necessary to develop Building Services into what should be an operation that all Marco Islanders can be proud of,” said City Manager Roger Hernstadt.

Berko and Hernstadt both share the belief that the department should be customer service oriented and they are in the process of enacting the improvements to reach that goal.

Some who are close to the situation within the Building Services Department give credit to both Hernstadt and Berko for moving into the “digital age,” as all permits and associated plans and permit applications are required to be submitted digitally.

Alex Parker, a local contractor and president of the Marco Island Chamber of Commerce was one. “This is not an easy process, and we are all still working through the

Photos by Steve StefanidesChief Building Official Joe Berko and Plans Examiner Raul Perez.

Photos by Steve StefanidesChief Building Official Joe Berko and Plans Examiner Raul Perez.

learning curve, but when done it will be good for all parties,” said Parker.

Contractors can avail themselves of outside services that will complete the packets for submittal and follow the permitting process for them if they lack the internal resources.

Hernstadt agreed, and complimented those contractors that have trained their personnel to adapt to the more modern technology. “We have had a number of contractors who have made great progress, but both sides have to continue to strive to make the necessary improvements,” said Hernstadt.

“This allows all stake holders in the process to share the information at the same time when entered on the digital platform,” said Berko. “By everyone having it on their screen it shouldn’t get tied up on any one person’s desk waiting to be moved along until that individual comes back from personal time off or an illness,” said Berko.

“On occasion we’ll get a call from an irate owner who complains his contractor can’t get his permit. In some cases we find that all the paperwork has yet to be filed with us or we are waiting for additional information which was not provided with the original submission,” said Berko. “Providing us with the packet in its entirety is vital to moving the process along,” said Berko.

“We do strive to work with everyone and appreciate it when we can work together, if we know there may be a problem,” said Berko. “Both Roger’s door and mine are always open to deal with special circumstances and move the process forward,” continued Berko.

Perfect Storm

The city has also seen a major uptick in construction projects during the last year. The work being done at the Marriott Beach Resort, the Rose Marina Project, the Hilton Renovation and the Marriott Vacation Club project located at the south end of the island exacerbates the higher than usual demands on that department.

“I personally think they are moving in the right direction; is everything perfect, of course it isn’t,” said Council Chairman Bob Brown. “People have to remember the swamp we gave Roger (Hernstadt) to drain when he came here and conveniently didn’t tell him about the alligators that were still there. How quickly people forget, but he has

Building Department’s Customer Service Supervisor Lisa Loewer reviewing a question from Administrative Technician Betty Larson

Building Department’s Customer Service Supervisor Lisa Loewer reviewing a question from Administrative Technician Betty Larson

made tremendous progress and the community should recognize that,” said Brown.

Berko has also been given a green light to bolster some of the staffing needs within the permitting department to lessen the load on existing personnel and meet contractor needs on a timely basis. “The trick in doing this is to hit a sweet-spot to insure we don’t overstaff for when things do slow down and provide some cross-training of skills so we can laterally move individuals to other responsibilities should the need arise. Maintaining a stable staff is one of our priorities to insure we offer quality services to our customers,” said Hernstadt.

Managing Past Issues

Like any operation there are issues which flow back into the past. Issues which were part of a past administration’s choice of how to handle certain situations, and hard feelings continue to linger. “It’s hard to deal with something from 4 years ago where the appropriate protocols on how to deal with problems were not handled optimally,” said Hernstadt.

“There are state regulatory authorities and even the Collier County Licensing Board that are the appropriate venues to deal with complaints when an owner may have issues with contractors or even inspectors on a job. The city is not responsible to be a quality assurance manager on any project or an arbitrator between a contractor and an owner,” said Hernstadt.

“We are required to review plans and insure the appropriate inspection criteria is followed according to the Florida Building Code. Where engineering documentation is required, we insure that is provided and that all the requirements of the applicable regulations are adhered to,” said Joe Berko.


Moving Forward

Both Hernstadt and Berko compliment the local contractors for working within the system and consider them partners in making the necessary strides to improve the permitting and inspection responsibilities within the city.

“They are our customers and we really do appreciate their input, suggestions and assistance in making this an easier process,” said Hernstadt.

“I really do think we are headed in the right direction,” said Erik Condee of Condee Cooling and Electric. “The combination of a better internal process, coupled with a stable workforce within the department will go a long way to insuring a more streamlined process for us all,” said Condee.

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