Lee and Lenox have resolved to start the new year with a single building commissioner, assisted by a local inspector/zoning enforcement officer.
The neighboring towns' boards of selectmen are on the verge of finalizing an agreement creating the shared municipal positions. Lee is expected to sign off on the pact Dec. 15, followed by Lenox the next night. If approved, the joint venture would take effect. Jan. 1.
Lee already has hired Lenox building inspector Don W. Fitzgerald to serve as interim replacement for Donald Torrico, who resigned last month to take a post in Westfield. Fitzgerald has since been elevated to commissioner for Lee and Lenox, with both towns expected soon to fill the inspector position.
"I think it's a good idea to share inspectors," Lee Selectmen Thomas Wickham said Tuesday. "So far it's going well for both towns."
The two boards are confident one commissioner and inspector can handle the workload of two vibrant communities.
"Don Fitzgerald is driving this; he thinks it's a great idea," said Lenox Selectmen Channing Gibson at his board's Wednesday meeting. "He knows what he's capable of doing and what the job is about. I really do trust his judgment."
Sharing the top two building department positions is the first result of tri-town shared-services agreement Lee and Lenox ratified nearly two months ago. Currently, Stockbridge — the third member of the tri-town pact — is not participating, according to Lenox Town Manager Christopher Ketchen, but the town could choose to be added to the mix at a later date.
The joint building commissioner/local inspector arrangement is similar to the Tri-Town Health Department, set up decades ago, whereby Lee is the host community and the staff are town employees. Lenox and Stockbridge pay Lee their share of the department budget.
In this case, the commissioner and inspector would be on the Lenox payroll, with the two towns splitting the cost of both, 50-50.
Fitzgerald's salary of $59,738 for the combined building commissioner post will remain the same, with a single salary also for the full-time inspector/zoning enforcement officer, who will report to Fitzgerald.
Together, Ketchen and Lee Town Administrator Robert Nason will oversee the building department.
Unlike Tri-Town Health, which operates from a single office, Lee and Lenox would maintain separate building department offices to field inquiries and process permit requests from contractors, home and business owners within each community.
"We're not necessarily saving money doing this, but increasing efficiency within the town," said Lee Selectmen Chairwoman Patricia Carlino.
Both towns see the shared commissioner/inspector agreement as a test case for the tri-town pact and hopefully will lead to other collaborations amongst the three municipalities.
"All three towns don't have to be aboard with one particular thing; Stockbridge and Lee could also do something, that's the beauty of it," said Lenox Selectmen Chairman Edward Lane. "We don't have to get the agreement of all three."
Lenox and Lee selectmen have agreed to apply for a District Local Technical Assistance grant from the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission in connection with future shared-services explorations by the tri-town Administrative Review Committee.
If the BRPC approves the request, the agency would determine the amount of the grant.