Barwick’s absence leaves void

Consultant was hired, but inspections are slower than normal.

Ken Barwick, right, the Tisbury building inspector, has been out on medical leave since August causing a crunch for local contractors waiting for inspections. The town hired a consultant to help. - George Brennan

Tisbury’s lack of a full-time building inspector for more than a month has slowed some building projects in town, according to people attempting to complete projects.

But that all may be moot soon. Building inspector Ken Barwick, whose medical leave prompted selectmen to appoint three members of Municipal Code Consulting to clear the backlog of inspections that needed to be done by Barwick’s office, is on the mend.

Town administrator Jay Grande said he expects to have Barwick back on the job Wednesday.

Barwick’s return comes at a good time.

The Martha’s Vineyard Builders Association wrote to the town expressing concern that projects weren’t getting inspected in a timely fashion.

Newell Isbell Shinn, president of the association, told The Times the letter was to point out that the two days of service the town was paying for a consultant to do inspections wasn’t enough. The association’s position was that three or four days is needed.

“When the town is unable to fulfill their requirements to come within three days, it throws a ripple through the ecosystem of our industry,” Isbell Shinn said. Construction is a “tightly choreographed” industry reliant on inspectors showing up on time. “It impacts our bottom lines. It impacts people who thought they’d have work to do.”

Last Tuesday, the Tisbury finance committee amended a request from Grande to transfer $32,000 from the reserve fund so he could hire a local inspector. Selectmen had authorized Grande to advertise for the position, but there was no funding attached.

Jeff Kristal, chairman of the finance committee, said the committee authorized Grande to spend up to $10,000 to hire a local inspector as an independent contractor after exhausting $8,100 that’s in the building department budget.

In order for Grande to establish the permanent local inspector’s job to help Barwick, he’ll have to bring it to town meeting in the spring.

Isbell Shinn said the association is pleased to hear that Tisbury is looking to hire a local inspector. The association spends tens of thousands on building permit fees and adds to the Island’s tax base. (According to town finance director Jon Snyder, Tisbury took in $210,020 in building permit fees in FY 2018.)

Isbell Shinn is also pleased to hear that Barwick’s return is imminent. “I did hear that from Jay Grande. He said the he town is also looking to find a way to add a local inspector,” Isbell Shinn said. “That’s great news, too. You need that redundancy in small offices on the Island.”
Municipal Code Consulting has been a stopgap and expensive solution, Grande said. It costs about $1,000 per day for one of the consultant’s inspectors to come to the Island to work on permitting issues.

That’s one of the reasons he is pursuing a local inspector to help Barwick. The position is needed because there’s just too much for Barwick to do. “We need a longer-term solution. The issue is capacity,” Grande said. “He’s only one person.”

Grande has been authorized to work with Oak Bluffs town administrator Robert Whritenour on the possibility of consolidating building inspector duties to help issues in both towns.

Barwick, Lenny Jason, Edgartown’s building inspector, and Joe Tierney, West Tisbury’s building inspector, are the only full-time licensed building inspectors on the Island.

With the specialized training and certification necessary, Grande said, it’s a statewide issue. That’s why Municipal Code Consulting exists, to fill that niche.

Grande said the town’s spent approximately $12,000 on the services of Municipal Code Consulting in Barwick’s absence.