Warm weather normally signals the start of construction and remodeling projects, but Salt Lake County officials say few hammers and saws are being used so far this spring.
Cities within the county also are suffering a slowdown, with many cities reporting more than 40 percent fewer construction projects this year than last, according to statistics compiled by the Bureau of Economic and Business Research at the University of Utah."Historically, March is the first boom month of the year," said Ken Jones, county development services director. "It didn't start off so good this year."
Commissioner Dave Watson, whose responsibilities include the county's building division, said things have never looked worse. The county had to lay off two dispatch clerks and may end up more than $400,000 below income projections this year.
He questions any future decisions by the commission that would add more rules and regulations to building ordinances.
"How can we be out passing more restrictive ordinances when we don't have the manpower to enforce them?" he said.
The county and all its cities combined issued only 424 permits for the construction of single-family houses during the first three months of 1988, almost 45 percent fewer than during the same time in 1987.
And the number of permits was 67 percent lower than the same period in 1986, when 982 permits were issued for single-family houses.
Fewer construction projects were reported in nearly every local city during the first three months of the year. Salt Lake City was off 54.1 percent, according to the report. The city's only increase was in non-residential remodeling projects.
South Salt Lake led all cities with a drop of 78 percent in total construction projects.
But South Salt Lake Mayor Jim Davis said construction within the city traditionally tends to be sporadic.
"All our land area is gone," he said. "When we do get new buildings, it's usually in large volumes."
Davis said he has mixed feelings about the local economy. He said he usually discovers trends by watching a nearby office building where entrepreneurs come to start new businesses.
"When it's vacant, it means there is a loss of confidence in the economy," he said. "But right now it's full."
Davis said he also has been approached by several developers in recent weeks interested in new projects.
But other large businesses within the city are going out of business, he said.
County officials say they will have to reduce the number of employees in the Development Services Division, which grants permits and conducts inspections. The division relies on money earned from issuing permits.
Jones said the division took deep cuts last year because of the construction slowdown but avoided layoffs by not replacing employees who quit or retired.
"We've already had several employees quit," Jones said. "We're trying to keep our budget down."
John Hiskey, the county's public works director, said county commissioners may soon have to decide whether to continue allowing the division to shrink or to subsidize it from one of the county's other funds.