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GROTON — Town Manager Mark Haddad had some good news for the Finance Committee at its meeting Tuesday: The number of building permits issued so far this year has “far exceeded” expectations.

“That’s good for the revenue stream,” Chairman Jay Prager said.

Haddad said 163 building permits have been awarded, chiefly to developers of such subdivision projects as Monarch Path, Academy Hill and Squannacook Hill.

The number might indicate that builders sense a strengthening in the local economy, Planning Administrator Michelle Collette said.

“The market is really changing,” she said. “Things are turning around.”

However, Haddad said, the increased activity generated by the permits will probably require expansion of building- inspection services, either by increasing the building inspector’s hours to 35-40 hours a week or by hiring an assistant inspector.

Filling the assistant position would not require the payment of additional benefits and the salary could be paid from the budget’s general fund, Haddad said.

Building inspector Bentley Herget’s salary now stands at $57,000. If the increased hours were approved, that figure could rise by $5,000 to $10,000.

Haddad said he will recommend the increased hours to the Board of Selectmen and sought the FinCom’s support.

Although the committee expressed support, Prager questioned what would happen if the number of permits suddenly dropped. Should the workload lessen, Haddad said, Herget’s hours could be reduced.

Even so, committee members expressed reservations about covering extra hours for the building inspector because the 2012 fiscal year promises to be another difficult one for the budget.

On another front, Haddad expressed interest in the news that state Sen. Steve Panagiotakos, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, is supporting home rule petitions by cities and towns to permit them to make changes in health-insurance coverage for union employees without collective bargaining.

The Legislature recently defeated a proposal to give municipalities that power. Panagiotakos however, is urging towns and cities to file home rule petitions to create pressure on legislators when the issue comes up again next year.

The FinCom’s next meeting is scheduled for July 27.