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Tom Makowicki is Old Saybrook’s new building official. Here he stands in front of shelves in the Building Department where old blueprints and drawings from building permit applications are stored. (Photo by Becky Coffey/Harbor News | Buy This Photo)
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When Tom Makowicki started as Old Saybrook’s new town building official on Sept. 5, 2017, about 5,000 building permits in town files were open. By last week, 3,000 of those open permits had been closed.
Tom is thrilled to be the town’s new building official, replacing the retiring Don Lucas.
“Don Lucas has been a great mentor to me. I went to him when I decided to get my building inspector license. He’s been a great resource to me even though he is retired. It’s like replacing Derek Jeter—you can’t replace Don Lucas,” says Tom.
With a degree in landscape design, Tom learned surveying, soil science, drainage, and grading. Then he spent 35 years working for local contractors, starting with digging holes for concrete footings, and then became a carpenter, site foreman, and finally, project manager.
“Being a project manager, I learned the trades of electrical, plumbing, and mechanical,” says Tom.
Quoting Lucas, Tom says of the building official job, “Every half-hour is a new adventure. We try to stick to half-hour increments,” says Tom. “I don’t think people should wait. If you say you are going to be there at 9:30, you should be there.”
Tom says that commitment to service isn’t limited to his department.
“I absolutely love this job. People in Town Hall could not be nicer,” says Tom. “In dealing with the Land Use Department and the fire marshal, we all have a tremendous line of communication. Everyone is talking to everyone else.”
As the town’s Building Department moves from an older permit tracking system to the cloud-based Municity system, Tom wanted to make sure the data moved from the old system to the new was accurate. So before older permit data is migrated, Tom and the administrative assistants sought to close as many open permits as possible.
Closing open building permits for all towns was made easier by a state law passed last year. It allowed town building departments to deem permits still open after nine years to be officially closed, even if a certificate of occupancy (CO) hadn’t been issued.
For Old Saybrook’s Building Department staff, this meant that administrative assistants Brigid and Becky had to search through the index card-filled file boxes to find the oldest ones. They started by pulling the ones from the 1990s first—they were the easiest ones.
“You can tell by the color of the paper how long they were in there. Each [older] one is pulled out by the administrative assistant. Then I review the open permit to see if it needs a re-inspection due to potential safety issues. So far, only six or so have needed re-inspections. If [they don’t], then the permit is closed.”
Why do building permits remain open at all? There are several reasons, according to Tom.
“Mostly, people never call [the Building Department] when they are done when a project does not need a CO,” says Tom. “Also, if there is not a loan or a bank providing financing, no entity is demanding to see the CO.”
Projects not requiring a CO include work like installing new siding, putting on a new roof, replacing old windows, or adding a deck. Unless the contractor or homeowner called the department when the work was done, the building permit would remain open.
Some property owners also don’t call Town Hall when a project is done because they think the improvements will increase the value of their home.
“Sometimes they don’t call because they don’t want the tax assessor to know,” he says.
Tom says that now that the department has closed 3,000 open permits, it has begun moving the parcel by parcel permit data from the old tracking system into the town’s Municity database system. That process, led by IT Manager Larry Hayden, is now almost complete. That means the department staff, including Tom, is making a technological leap ahead.
“I’m using the tablet to record all my inspections and to take photos to document the work,” says Tom. “We’re already emailing permits and payment receipts as much as we can through Municity. We’re also picking up any open permits [stored in the system] and can view what the open item is and close it when we’re on site.”
Soon he hopes to establish a reminder system going in Municity to alert him when work under a permit should have been completed. That will help to make sure open permits are closed in a timely fashion in the future.
Although department staff is using Municity for permit and inspection tracking and data entry, public access to the system may not be available for another six months, according to Tom. Once it’s open to the public, the system will provide applicants with on-line payment options and the ability to file applications and view inspection results online.
Tom grew up in Essex and went to Valley Regional High School, where he played football and baseball. As his son grew, he started coaching his son and other shoreline kids in Little League, Juniors, Babe Ruth, and American Legion baseball teams. Now he uses his free time differently. He likes to tend his vegetable garden and to cook with his wife Gretchen—he’s the sous-chef.
“She’s already famous for her banana bread—everyone in Town Hall loves it,” says a smiling Tom.
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