Building inspector Dave Varvel has been around City Hall long enough that he actually pre-dates the office computer.
He works from a modern laptop now, certainly an upgrade from the first city computer he used. That old blunderbuss was loaded with Windows 95 -- unfortunately it was already 2004.
But the way the building permit business has been going in the City of Greencastle, Varvel hasn't even needed a computer to keep track of the new housing starts. In fact, so far during 2011, he could have kept track on one hand. Or in reality, via one single, solitary (albeit socially acceptable) finger.
"We finally issued our first new home permit (for 2011)," Varvel said this week, noting that it was issued on the new residence of Bill Smith and Erika Gilmore being constructed at 626 Elliott St. (just off the extension of Evensview Drive in the Glenview Subdivision, north of the Deerfield Estates).
The permit was issued on May 26 -- the 146th day of a very slow year.
There are economic indicators, and then there are obvious economic indicators. Varvel said he has followed the pattern of how single-family homes track the ups and downs of the economy since 1995.
"It pretty much mirrors it," he said of the economy while pointing to a bar graph on the wall of his City Hall office.
While 2011 is almost at the halfway mark with but a lone single-family home building permit filed, 2010 was not much better. Only five single-family residence permits were issued all of last year.
One of those five was a single-family home in Deerfield that was started last year and completed this spring by former resident Joe McCabe and his building partners. New home construction has been so rare in Greencastle that traffic would often slow to a crawl as gawkers passed that building site along Shadowlawn Avenue.
For both 2008 and 2009, there were but 10 single-family home permits issued, while 14 were issued in both 2006 and 2007 when the downturn began to become apparent.
Prior to that, the city permit totals were more impressive -- 30 in 2005, 29 in 2004, 21 in 2003 and 34 in 2002. For 2001, the total was only 19, but 2000 saw 28 single-family residence permits.
Varvel's figures showed 16 single-family home permits for 1999 and 22 in 1998.
The three years before that, the city totals also included single-family building permits issued within the two-mile fringe. Since 1998, Putnam County has taken over issuing those in the fringe area.
But the 1995 total for the city and the fringe came to 44, followed by 32 in 1996 and 22 in 1997.
Further indication of the current local building lull has been the inactivity of the Greencastle Board of Zoning Appeals and the City Plan Commission. Neither group has conducted a regular monthly meeting since before March.