I came across this article, and I know exactly what these business men are talking about. I have seen our regulations, rules, and permits multiply incredibly on just the municipal level. Fortunately, our business is very small, hiring less than five people, so we fall under the radar on most federal guidelines, else we’d be toast. Crispy, unbuttered, toast.
We specialize in utility installs and disconnects, including water and sewer. The bulk of our work is to install water meters, from irrigation or garden meters to large 8″ commercial vaults. I hate the large ones, because the paperwork is a real pain. Fortunately, most of what we do is residential, usually garden meters and new home meters. Hubby began training under an experienced plumber (for free, may I add, for those who feel that doing any work for free is being “exploited”). Once he gained the skills, we acquired the heavy equipment we needed – the big trailer, backhoe, large air compressor, torpedo/boring machine – and the other specialized equipment, like the tapping machine. This was a large financial risk for us, but Hubby was sure that it was a wise investment and would pay for itself. It did.
When we started doing water meters, all we had to do was call for the utilities to mark their lines in the work area and then call the day before to schedule an inspection. If a problem caused a delay, the inspector could be called and he could usually delay our inspection for later in the day so we’d have time to overcome whatever obstacle had arisen. If necessary, we’d cancel and reschedule for the next day. Work done, bill the customer a few hundred dollars, and the crew would be out of there.
Now, about ten years later, the difficulty of just getting the permits and scheduling has made us consider closing our doors more than once. Our prices have gone up considerably as well, with the increase in materials costs (our parts are mostly brass and copper) and the price of permits. Our cheapest meters run between $500-850 dollars for a tap that doesn’t require boring under that street, and our “long taps” that require bores are $1000-2000, depending upon placement, materials, etc. (These prices are vague for a reason, in case our competition stumbles across this site.)
For our short taps, we call for locates, call two days ahead of time to schedule our inspection, and check to see if we need a lane closure permit. If we can park on the customer’s property, we may not need one. (By the way, our trucks don’t take up any more space on the street than a Tupperware party parking their cars might use, and we’re only there for half a day or so.) If we need an LC permit, then we have to live with the fact that the ordinance gives then ten days to issue the permit. Once we have permits, then we have to schedule for inspection two days later. A simple meter can legally take up to two to two-and-a- half weeks just to get approval. That does not take into account the time it takes for the customer to request and pay for the meter, for the city to send us the work order, for us to contact the customers and offer them a proposal, and then for us to get their signature and authorization for us to begin work. From start to finish, the whole process can take almost a month. Don’t get in a hurry! Fortunately, the lane closure permits haven’t been taking ten days to issue, but it’s always something we have to be aware of.
For long taps, it gets worse. On top of the permits and procedures already discussed, we have to apply for a “street cut” permit. Bear in mind that we don’t actually cut the street open for most of our meters, just bore underneath. Most of the time, the “inspection” for this street cut doesn’t even occur. So for an additional cost of a coupla hundred dollars, we get the privilege of telling the city where we’re boring (which they knew, anyway). Supposedly, this permit was created because of the big utilities leaving huge holes or badly patched holes in the street. They’re still doing that, and the city crews are still doing that, but they don’t have to pay for a street cut permit. They get “blanket permits,” which small businesses do not have access to.
Add to that, the cost of flagmen with the lane closure permit and the extra signs, and the lane closure issue is a huge added expense. If we go to a residential street, with little traffic, we may STILL be required to put out signs, provide temporary sidewalk area, and hire two flagmen. Ridiculous. We survived for many years without this permit and these restrictions, and no one that I’ve heard of has ever been hurt. Probably because people have been maneuvering around street obstacles for as long as there have been streets.
And when we complain to the bureaucracy about the increased cost, the answer is “just pass it on to the customer”.
Trying to overlay all of these schedules and open windows causes problems scheduling our jobs. This summer wasn’t too bad, because we had so little rain, but when rain causes delays in our jobs, it dominoes through the whole permitting system:
1) The street cut permit can take 10 days to issue, by ordinance, is good for xx days.
2) The lane closure permit – requiring a street cut permit – can take an additional 10 days to issue, by ordinance, and is good for xx days. (It used to be four days, but the recently increased the window after I wrote a scathing and lengthy email to my councilman).
3) The plumbing inspectors require 2 day notice, rescheduling usually is 1 or2 day reschedule.
4) The utility locates require 2 day notice, good for 14 days or less.
We have to overlay four different windows, or pay for permit extensions. If we encounter bad weather, hard ground, stabilized material (which we can’t bore through), unmarked utility lines (happens more often than you want to know), missing mains (the city maps are sometimes wrong), etc., and we miss one window, we could have to start halfway over all over again. Labor, materials, and permit expenses could be lost. And this is just for 2″ or less water meters. Larger meters have yet another layer of permits and rules.
Heaven help us if it’s a 4″ water meter with a bore!
So when the men in the aforementioned article complain about regulations and restrictions hampering their businesses, I feel for them. I know what my headaches are at my level. I can only imagine what their headaches must be like.
This situation reminded me of an old John Stossell report where he studied economies and what made them tick. One thing that stuck with me was how India, with all of its human capital and natural resources, hamstrings itself with regulations, leaving many of its people poor.
While looking for that article, I came across this interesting tidbit. A city in India was accidentally divided in two, leaving one-half with a city government and all the infrastructure, and the other half with pretty much nothing. Guess who won the economic battle? Yep – the side without the government and the infrastructure. Without the handicap of “the government coming to help,” the private industry created their own infrastructure and outgrew the established city hands down:
With less government, the city has thrived. The population skyrocketed from 100,000, when the local government was eliminated thirty years ago, to 1.6 million today. And there are now:
26 shopping malls, seven golf courses and luxury shops selling Chanel and Louis Vuitton. Mercedes-Benzes and BMWs shimmer in automobile showrooms. Apartment towers are sprouting like concrete weeds, and a futuristic commercial hub called Cyber City houses many of the world’s most respected corporations.
Idiot politicians who pass ordinances and laws should spend some time talking with those who have to live under them.