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Paynesville Press - April 16, 2003

City looks for an exception to the new state building code

By Bonnie Jo Hanson

The city council wants to waive requiring building permits for roofing, siding, and window installation within the city, but until they can determine if they can legally do this the city will continue to charge for these permits.

Last week, after deciding that a moratorium had no legal grounds, the city council elected to continue to issue permits, hold the money, and issue refunds if an exception to the state building code that requires these permits can be found.

Permits for shingling were first required by the state building code in April 2002, and the new state building code, effective April 1, 2003, requires permits for other projects such as installing windows and doors (Building permits are now needed for all window installations, including larger windows which will also need a remodeling permit), residing, and installing hot water heaters and furnaces.

Building inspector Butch Schulte of Mid-Minnesota Development Commission, the firm the city hires to enforce the state building code in Paynesville, told the council last week that enforcing the building code protects public safety by making sure that work is done properly.

But city administrator Steve Helget told the council that inspecting roofing jobs can be difficult. Many times, roofing jobs are done over a weekend by do-it-yourselfers, said Helget. When inspections are done after the work has been completed, they may not reveal any major structural problems.

Of the permit fees, currently $36.25 for a roofing permit, 50 goes to the state, 20 percent (or $7.25) goes to the city to help cover administrative expenses, and the remainder ($28.50) goes to Mid-Minnesota for code enforcement.

Planning commission chairman Jeff Bertram told the council that he doesn't believe residents are getting proper service for their fees.

Of 37 building permits issued for roofing projects in 2002, only 16 were inspected, according to city records. Of the first 20 permits issued, 15 inspections were done - all in a two-day period in August. But of the last 17 permits for shingling issued by the city, only one was inspected, even though at least two property owners said they notified Mid-Minnesota.

Still, Mid-Minnesota was paid its fee percentage for every permit issued, whether an inspection was actually done or not.

Bertram said closer to 50 roofing projects probably were completed in the city last year, but without having an inspector actively policing the city, there is no way to check every project for a permit, he said. Bertram noted that a large roofing job by the Paynesville Area Schools last summer was not inspected, though the school apparently did not call for an inspection, he said.

Schulte said that his company only does inspections when it is called by the property owner. If the property owner doesn't call for an inspection, he has no way of knowing the project is finished.

City secretary Jennifer Welling told the council that applicants are told to call for an inspection when building permits are issued. Also, instructions to call for inspections are clearly printed on the permit as well as on other information given to every applicant, she said.

Because of its size, Paynesville is not required to adopt the state building code, but the city needs regulations and to write its own code would be nearly impossible, said Helget.

The state doesn't allow adoption of just part of their code; it's either all or nothing, Schulte told the council. Since Mid-Minnesota contracts with several other cities, it wants each of these cities to follow the state building code, as well as a common fee schedule, to make its recordkeeping more uniform, Schulte added.

Bertram cited other cities, some large enough to be required to follow the state code, that either have no permit requirements for roofing or window installation or only require permits for large projects.

Schulte said he has no idea how other cities get by with breaking the state building code, but he has a duty to uphold it.

In the future, Mid-Minnesota will be held more accountable for inspections, promised Bertram. A representative of the company will be required to give regular reports to the planning commission, so the city will know if inspections are being ordered and completed, he said.

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