City gets warning from state regarding building inspections

By Audrey Caro

Lebanon Local

The city of Lebanon received a notice of “potential investigation” from the Department of Consumer and Business Services, Building Codes Division on April 23 questioning its building inspection practices, the City Council learned at its May 9 meeting.

The letter was in response to Lebanon building official Shawn Eaton’s request to renew the city’s building inspection program.

“Recent changes to administrative rules require us to collect additional information from you to determine whether or not your jurisdiction meets the requirements for delegation,” said Andrea Simmons, state enforcement manager. “The new rules change the requirements for building officials and electrical specialty code inspectors. They also provide minimum requirements for jurisdictions to follow when entering into agreements for building inspection program services.”

“This has to do with cities that contract with third-party providers,” Lebanon City Manager Gary Marks told councilors on May 9.

Lebanon does contract out, he said.

“The reason we do that is that we don’t typically have enough activity to employ an individual full time as a staff member,” Marks said. “You can have an inspector on staff who has nothing to do.”

Marks said he faced a similar situation as city manager in Ketchum, Idaho.

They had someone sitting in an office with nothing to do, he said.

“What we did was eliminate his position and contract it out,” he said.

Marks said Walt Wendolowski, community development director, has been looking at the issue.

“We can be in compliance as long as we have a building official, either a full-time employee or an employee of another local government,” Marks said.

A Feb. 16, 2018 memorandum from the Oregon Department of Justice states that “delegating full building or electrical programs to private parties, as well as renewing those types of delegated programs, violate a number of Oregon statutes.”

City attorney Tre Kennedy said he heard that some smaller cities are planning to build a coalition to challenge the rule in court.

“The League of Oregon Cities has also pledged their support, but they don’t have standing (in court in the issue),” Kennedy said.

Kennedy said a judge may allow an injunctive relief while the rule is being challenged.

“If a number of communities are forced to change this practice, it might be hard to go back,” he said.

The city has 30 days to respond the state’s letter.

“This response is your opportunity to correct our understanding and indicate how your jurisdiction meets the requirements, or if you currently don’t meet the state’s requirements, how you intend on complying with all of the program requirements,” Simmons said in her letter.

Simmons’ letter does not say the city is in violation, only that the state has “reason to believe your municipality may be in violation Oregon state statutes and administrative rules relating to the administration and enforcement of the state building code.”

Councilor Robert Furlow asked Marks if inspections currently “in the hopper” are in limbo or in jeopardy.

Marks said neither.

The city’s program is up for renewal on July 1 and any changes wouldn’t be in effect until then.

“It is BCD imposing their will,” said Councilor Jason Bolen. “You’re doing the right thing by the taxpayer, then (the city is) forced to waste taxpayer dollars.”

City gets warning from state regarding building inspections