The Wasco County Board of Commissioners didn’t get the turnout it was hoping for last Wednesday in a work session to look at building codes.
On a day when schools were closed due to an ice storm, only two people joined the discussion with the county commissioners—electrician Wayne Lease and Taner Elliot, a member of The Dalles City Council and electrician who was part of a project team that had less than 30 days to evaluate different building code models.
“I was disappointed that as much as this has been discussed, nobody bothered to show up,” Wasco County Administrative Officer Tyler Stone later said.
Stone mostly wanted to receive feedback on the vision the project team came up with for building codes.
“The vision for building codes is probably the most important aspect that has come out of this process because regardless of whether [Mid-Columbia Council of Government] MCCOG meets that vision or Wasco County meets that vision or an independent contractor meets that vision, if the vision is right then we have a direction to move towards,” he said.
Included in the vision is a “one-stop-shop” where planning, codes, codes enforcement and environmental health are all under one roof; online permit technology; multi-certified inspectors; mobile inspection capability; timeliness of service and cost to customers.
With that vision in mind, the project team evaluated four different models — the current program under MCCOG, adding online permit technology and multi-certified inspectors to MCCOG, using a private firm to provide services and an in-house model that would incorporate building codes with the Wasco County planning department.
At the Nov. 4 commissioner’s meeting, the team recommended Wasco County take over building code services from MCCOG.
At the work session, Lease recommended the county give building codes back to the state.
“If you want this to be more efficient and less expensive, you give it back to the state,” he said. You save 20 percent right off the top. How can the [permit] rates be less with the state operates it than when an independent operates it?
“When the state operates the program, it’s by the legislator and we’re in a state that has no sales tax. The surcharge is a tax, anyway you look at it. If you give it back to the state, they’re going to say we can’t go outside of what the legislature has set for us.
“You go back and look at what the state is charging, 17 to 20 percent less if the state administers the program.”
Lease noted two counties, Coos and Umatilla, have their building codes administered by the state.
“They are 17 to 20 percent cheaper because it’s state administered,” Lease said. “I will show you anything you want to confirm what I’m telling you. If I’m wrong, I’ll go down Main Street and I’ll apologize but I’m not wrong here.”
While the work session was poorly attended, several more contractors did speak up at the Nov. 4 commissioner’s meeting. They all liked the service they were getting and didn’t want to lose the inspectors they’d grown to trust.
Elliot said last Wednesday that wouldn’t be a problem.
“There are very few people who want to be in this area that have the expertise to be an inspector,” he said. “I don’t think that those worries are really prevalent with the issue that we have with transparency.”
MCCOG has administered building codes since 2007 when it took it from the state but an intergovernmental agreement between MCCOG and the county was never signed.
Earlier this year, Wasco County received an IGA from MCCOG but has chosen not to sign it.
MCCOG has come under criticism for having high administrative overhead, lack of transparency and increased fees.
“I have been critical of the operation, not so much the functional part of it but how it’s been managed in terms of the reserves, the rate increases, the transparency,” Commission Chair Scott Hege said at the Nov. 4 commissioners meeting. “Those are real concerns and this is not new.
This has been going on for a few years and frankly there hasn’t been a lot of helpful changes with some of the concerns that we had. Personally, that’s why I have been pushing this issue hard and that’s why I want to see it looked at.”
Hood River County plans to take over its building codes by April.
Stone said he plans to meet with MCCOG’s new Executive Director Bob Francis next week.
Another work session has not been scheduled.
The board of commissioners’ next meeting is Wednesday, Dec. 16.