BACKUS -- The Backus City Council's exploration of whether to adopt the state building code will go back to a now-expanded study committee following Monday's public hearing on the issue.
Backus residents Charles Dufour and Don Fowler were the most vocal among several appearing at the council's public hearing to oppose adopting the building code.
Dufour, Fowler and Donna Dufour will begin meeting with council members Fred Smith and Dan Kornelyk and five existing citizen committee members at a 1 p.m. meeting Monday to discuss city goals and their differences over the building code proposal.
The original committee recommended by majority vote that the council adopt the state building code.
That proposal called for existing properties to be exempt unless they were structurally improved. All new construction would fall under the code.
"It would keep junk from being built in the city," said Smith. It also would allow the city better control over improvements on rental housing inside the city and enable inspection of those properties, he said.
Kornelyk said he believes having a state building code would increase the valuation of the city.
Currently, city building permits cost $25. If the code were adopted, the building permit fee is proposed to remain at $25 for the first $2,000 in new construction valuation, plus $3 per $1,000 up to $25,000 and would rise additionally above that amount, said Mayor Mike Nethercutt. There also would be a .05 percent state surcharge.
A state certified contract inspector would receive a percentage of fees collected to inspect each new project, Nethercutt said. Fairly detailed improvement or new construction plans would be required before construction begins.
Property owners could hire a contractor or do their own work.
LeRoy Heitz, a state building inspector with 20 years of experience as a contractor and another 20 years of experience as a state certified inspector for Scott County and the state, described the state code Monday as a "minimum code."
If the city had a state certified inspector under contract, that person would also serve city residents as a consultant when they have questions about proper construction methods, he said.
Meeting the code would mean people have buildings better able to withstand high winds and snow loads, he said, noting 2,800 buildings collapsed in Minnesota four years ago under heavy snow.
People living in Minnesota jurisdictions where the building code has been adopted have been twice as likely to survive severe storms than those living in jurisdictions where there is no building code, Heitz said.
While the city can issue condemnation proceedings against owners of dangerous or unsafe buildings without a building code, someone with credentials equal to a state certified inspector must first inspect the building and be available to testify in court, Heitz said.
Even then, the property owner has the option under state law of demolishing or securely boarding up the structure, he said.
If the city chose to license rental property owners, Heitz said he has never seen licensing without a building code in place first.
While agreeing the goal is to improve properties in Backus, some of the objections raised included:
1) Increasing permit fees and the potential for a contracting inspector to charge more than the fees would cover.
2) People who can afford to add onto their house or business building can also afford to hire a contractor who knows as much about state codes as the inspector.
3) Many people are on fixed incomes and cannot afford the potentially higher cost to build or improve their property if fees increase.
4) A building code increases government interference in people's lives. Those opposing the city code were of the view the county and state already have employees available to answer any questions people might want to ask concerning building construction.
Nethercutt said adopting the state code is under consideration at this time, but there is not a timetable for adoption, nor is there any consideration at this time to put the issue on a referendum ballot for voters.
The expanded committee will report to the council again in June.
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