BENTON - The county is facing a new dilemma after attempting to renew an expanded jurisdiction contract with the state.
Expanded Jurisdiction allows a local government to take responsibility for the review and inspection of construction projects that would normally be reviewed and inspected by the Division of Building Codes Enforcement at the state level – any structure with a more than 100 person capacity (exceptions: hospitals, daycares, nursing homes and high hazard projects inspected by the state regardless of expanded jurisdiction).
In Marshall County, many of these commercial establishments include churches, small businesses and large plants within the Calvert City area.
Since 1978, Marshall County has participated in the program, conducting commercial inspections of these structures at a local level.
Inspector Cat Spears and Program Coordinator Wendy Baxter maintain there is a significant time savings benefit by keeping the inspection process local, rather than allowing the state Building Code Enforcement Office to handle it.
However, new legislation passed a few years ago now states that for a local government to keep their expanded jurisdiction designation, they must inspect all residential dwellings, as well.
Currently, the only area within Marshall County that requires residential inspection is the city of Benton. County-wide, only electrical and HVAC inspections are required.
On Monday, city and county leaders met with Jim Bozeman from the Kentucky Department of Housing Building and Construction to discuss options and the potential ramifications of adopting a new residential inspection policy versus losing expanded jurisdiction privileges.
Bozeman told the county he was uncertain of exactly how long they would have to make their decision, but advised a determination would need to be made in a timely manner to remain in compliance with state regulations.
If the county does apply to renew their expanded jurisdiction contract, a new residential inspection and certification ordinance will have to be adopted requiring a three-step inspection of all new residential construction, to include any attached additions. Detached and farm structures would be excluded from that requirement.
The three-step inspection process would include foundation, insulation and structure completion where a certificate of occupancy would be issued.
Bozeman and Baxter advised officials fees structures for the program range greatly from .05 per square foot to .14 per square foot plus a permit fee implemented by some local governments. Bozeman said establishing the fee structure is left entirely up to the local government instituting the ordinance.
Inspectors for the dwellings must hold level I and level II inspection certifications from the state.
Questions from local officials to Bozeman centered around discussion of pros and cons of requiring residential such.
Bozeman said in his opinion, residents benefit from having their homes inspected, particularly in areas where there is no planning and zoning provision in place. “If they spend $200 on a permit, that’s a lot better than spending thousands to fight with a builder in court.” While the permit process admittedly would not prevent all potential issues, Bozeman said it can prevent contractors from “cutting corners” in critical portions of the build process. Adding, “some companies won’t even insure a structure without a certificate of occupancy.”
Bozeman said the permit process “levels the playing field” for contractors with “everyone having the same rules." Contractors would be registered with the county/city, with verified insurance documented, an added measure of protection for consumers.
He also reminded county officials that building codes for residential dwellings are already mandated by law, however, many local governments have no mechanism of enforcement.
Of whether or not keeping expanded jurisdiction would save time for those completing commercial project builds and expansions in the county, Bozeman reported there are currently 350 commercial projects “on the shelf” with the state waiting for inspection, adding some credence to the claims that the loss of expanded jurisdiction could impact turn-around time on local commercial project inspection and certification.
But officials such as County Commissioner Terry Anderson stated their uncertainly about moving forward with any type of new permit process and fee structure, particularly in this economy.
“So basically, the state is going to use the residential permits to hold us hostage over expanded jurisdiction,” County Commissioner Bob Gold asked Bozeman of why the new mandate was added in the legislation. “Well, I wouldn’t exactly put it that way,” he responded, "but bsaically."
Concern continued to reverberate throughout the conversation as to whether or not requiring residential dwelling permits, would be perceived to be a measure of planning and zoning by the community.
City of Benton Marty Johnson was on hand reporting that while there were a few obstacles initially, requiring residential permits in the city has been a good thing, adding the reason the city initially adopted the ordinance in the first place was to protect their residents from a contractor, who at the time, had built homes in the city having questionable structural integrity.
City and county officials will be meeting again in January with certified inspectors from neighboring counties as they seek more information before making a final decision on whether to opt out of their contract for expanded jurisdiction or adopt a new residential inspection ordinance.