Dallas

Dallas Leaders Demand Building Department Repair

Consultants find extreme delays answering phones

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New construction brings tax money for cities, but Dallas leaders fear losing growth to neighboring cities over massive delays at the building department. A new report this week says phone calls are being answered faster but builders are still fuming.

Dallas leaders demanded more improvement in the city building department after a briefing this week revealed extreme delays just answering the phones.

Recently elected City Councilman Paul Ridley said builders need to know the phone delays are better so they will keep calling Dallas.

“What is most concerning, that, they’re abandoning Dallas to develop in other cities,” Ridley said.

Homebuilder Alan Hoffman just completed a $900,000 home in Northeast Dallas, but he said it took months longer than expected and cost more, at least partly due to delays at the building department.

"It really puts Dallas at a disadvantage in the metropolitan area," Hoffman said. “I know there are a lot of good people at the city that want to do their job effectively, and in many cases, they're not given the right tools."

After years of complaints about Dallas building department delays, Toyota Consulting reviewed the call center operation and found a list of shortcomings that were detailed in the briefing this week.

More than half of callers were being left in a cue for more than 15 minutes.

Technology improvements now allow call takers to provide better information faster.

“Clearly it’s an accomplishment and there’s progress being made. That’s still a frustrating amount of time to be waiting on the phone,” Council Member Gay Donnell Willis said.

There are still many other unsolved problems according to Dallas Homebuilders Association Executive Director Phil Crone.

“This definitely wasn’t a mission accomplished moment for the woes in the building department,” he said.  

Zoning Consultant Tabitha Wheeler-Reagan said simple matters that used to be handled on the spot now require weeks or even months of red tape that are crippling to some of her clients.

“We know that our economy is run by small business and it only takes one or two things to put a small business out of business before they are starting it,” she said.

The Dallas City Council Government Performance Committee heard the building department briefing Monday.

“I think it’s time for some soul searching among senior leadership as to how we allowed this dysfunctional situation to arise in the first place. And in the second place, how we allowed it to continue for years. There have been complaints about the building permit section and their responsiveness, for years,” Ridley said.

Chief Financial Officer Elizabeth Reich agreed that efficiency at the building department is key to funding city programs.

“The faster we can have development and projects completed in the City of Dallas, we get more property on the tax roll contributing to the services we provide in terms of public safety and infrastructure,” she said.

Some members asked if more people need to be hired.

Committee Chair Cara Mendelsohn said the Toyota review shows the city needs to fix things and not just throw people at the problems.

“We’ve got to keep going. We’ve got lots of different parts of this department that are not performing as we expect,” Mendelsohn said.

Mendelsohn said building department managers would be called back before the government performance committee every month until all the problems are fixed.