City of Portage Community Spotlight: Doug Sweeney

City of Portage Community Spotlight: Doug Sweeney

Each Sunday we will feature a project going on within the city, happenings within a department or someone who works hard to provide services to the community. Today we talk to Building Commissioner Doug Sweeney and the role of the building department in the city.

The city's building department is here to serve residents, first and foremost, said Building Commissioner Doug Sweeney.

In its three basic roles -- issuing licenses to contractors, issuing building or improvement location permits and conducting inspections -- the goal is to make sure residential projects, as well as commercial and industrial projects, meet building codes and are constructed to minimum workmanship standards.

Sweeney said the building department should be a resident's first stop when they are considering a property improvement.

"We want residents to bring in a plan for what they want to do," said Sweeney. Staff review the plans to make sure they meet zoning requirements. If the plans meet city code, projects can be granted a building or improvement location permit, If they don't.

"They can get all the help they need from the department," said Sweeney, adding his most important piece of advice is to come and talk to the employees before they begin their improvement. "You give us your plan and we can tell you what you need to do. We'll help you tweak it to meet code," he said.

suggestions can be made to bring them into compliance. Larger or more complicated projects can be referred to the planning department, especially if variances are needed.

All construction is regulated by state-adopted building codes as well.

"Everything we issue a permit for, should have inspections," said Sweeney, adding once a permit is issued, the resident will be provided information on scheduling inspections.

Inspections, said Sweeney, are protection for homeowners to make sure improvements that are being made meet building codes and workmanship standards.

"This is your property, but it is not going to be your property forever," he said, explaining the inspections make sure the project is being done in compliance not only for the present property owner, but for anyone who might purchase the property in the future.

Each year employees license some 1,100 contractors, whether they are doing one job in the city or are city based and conduct ongoing business within the city. Some trades, such as carpentry, electrical and HVAC, require one principal in the company pass a licensing test. Other contractors, while not having to be tested, must still be licensed. Licensing requires the companies to be bonded and carry liability insurance. An exception, plumbing companies, are licensed by the state.

This past year has been fairly busy despite COVID-19 requiring much of the department's business being conducted via email, telephone or appointments, said Sweeney.

The department issued in excess of 100 permits for new home construction. That has been a fairly steady number for the last four years. Commercial construction was also steady in 2020.

In addition to Sweeney, who has served as building commissioner for about 13 years, the department employees three full-time and one part-time clerical employees and two part-time inspectors.

The department is funded through the fees collected for various permits.

"By state statue we are not a revenue source for the city. Fees are structured to cover the cost of the department," said Sweeney.

More information on the building department can be obtained by calling the department at 219-762-4204 or by going to the department's website at