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MUSCATINE — Well, new home permits went through the roof. As in a 200 percent increase.

Eric Furnas, the county's director of planning and zoning, said his office takes count of permits issued for builder and contractor projects for the year through May 11, and this year they saw a massive increase.

"I think the economy is showing some signs of improving. Housing is usually a good indication," Furnas said. "It means there are more people that are buying land, financing a new house or an addition."

Since last year, the county has seen a 44 percent increase in all permitting activities. 

"More people are remodeling, putting additions on, installing new wells, new septic systems," Furnas said. "All the permits that my office issues, all different types — environmental, electrical — are up about 44 percent."

"It's a really good indicator of our workload for the remaining summer because people begin breaking ground on projects as soon as spring comes," he said.

To compensate for the increase, Furnas was at Monday's Board of Supervisors meeting to get approval for an additional full-time inspector for his department. 

"Our inspectors cover every phase of residential construction and now we will be working on commercial and industrial inspections due to recent changes that we made here at the county level so those projects will be under our purview as well," Furnas said at the meeting. 

"As you are aware, once a new home is permitted, there are multiple inspections over the next six to nine months to a year, in addition to all the other inspections that we are trying to keep on top of as well," Furnas said. "I'm asking we add one additional staff position to help with the inspections."

Furnas maintained that the additional staff member was in reaction to the increases in all permitting. However his department recently became responsible for all industrial and commercial permitting. This was a result of the board of supervisors terminating an MOU with City of Muscatine that once handled industrial and commercial permitting for unincorporated Muscatine County.

Robert Howard, district one supervisor, said he was happy to see that the need was not a result of the additional responsibilities created by the MOU termination. 

"This is more than just (commercial and industrial permitting)," Howard said. "We had an actual need internally. And this will help fix that."

At this point Furnas said that his office has not issued a commercial or industrial permit. He did say that one business approached him with questions. But at this point, there is no indication that such permits will see significant volume.

"We strive very much to work with the homeowner to get them to their dream without being burdensome," Furnas said. "However, there are good reasons for building codes: safety being the top priority."

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