Council to continue review of SAFEbuilt proposal

Firm would provide building department services for Salem

SALEM –Discussion regarding SAFEbuilt and the idea of having the firm provide building department services for commercial and residential projects in the city will now come back before Committee of the Whole at 6 p.m. Dec. 4.

City council’s Finance Committee agreed Wednesday to hand SAFEbuilt back over to Committee of the Whole, which includes all seven council members, to further discuss the proposal and what steps the city needs to take if a decision is made to go forward.

SAFEbuilt building official Martin Van Gundy IV addressed some questions from Finance Committee members and other council members in attendance at the session, along with area building contractor Scott Mingus. Downtown Salem Partnership members Ben Ratner and Joe Hovorka also attended.

Besides briefly looking at a suggested fee schedule and a pair of scenarios Mayor John Berlin asked SAFEbuilt to prepare, those present asked Van Gundy questions about residential pricing and when a permit would be required if a homeowner is doing some work on their own home, such as adding a room or just replacing fixtures in the bathroom.

Currently, the state building department oversees commercial projects and there’s no real oversight or permits required for residential projects, although residents are supposed to get zoning permits from the city for various renovation projects to ensure for example that the proper setbacks are followed. At a previous meeting, city Planning & Zoning Officer Chip Hank said he can tell someone where to put a room addition or deck but not how to properly construct it.

With SAFEbuilt, that could change. As proposed, there would be building permits for residential projects and fees related to plan review and inspections. SAFEbuilt would oversee new construction and renovation projects for both commercial and residential to make it worth their commitment to provide the services.

Van Gundy explained that the level of inspection required for a residential project would depend on the size and what’s being done. Councilman Geoff Goll, who acted as chair since Councilman Andrew Null was unable to attend, asked if council adopts the state building rules for commercial and residential, what does that mean for person who has an existing home and may need to do some work on it?

Van Gundy said repairs are defined in the code and there are exceptions for most general repairs, meaning they would not require a permit, but if something is being added, such as a room or porch, say new electrical is being put in, that would require a permit and inspections.

“Any doubt whatsoever, give us a call,” he said.

Councilman Ron Zellers, who’s not on the Finance Committee, but was present, asked several questions, such as how they get to the plan review stage, and whether contractors and architects from the area could still go to the state or would they have to go to SAFEbuilt if the city contracts with the company for building department services. Goll said once the city would complete the process of adopting an ordinance to have a city building department and adopt the codes and have SAFEbuilt on board, then he would think the contractors would have to go through the city.

Councilman Sal Salvino asked if Van Gundy could name some of the company’s competitors after noting that they are a for-profit firm. He said the biggest for plan review would be CT Consultants, but he wasn’t sure that they provided services as in-depth as SAFEbuilt. Ratner said that was one of the companies the Downtown Salem Partnership checked into, but they didn’t offer the full range of services like SAFEbuilt.

Mingus did some quick calculations based on what the permits for the state permitting and review process would cost for a 10,000 square foot commercial building and what it would cost under SAFEbuilt using the fee structure provided. He said there was a substantial difference, with the state being cheaper. He explained how he arrived at his figures and then after the meeting, he and the SAFEbuilt representative went over them. The SAFEbuilt representative who’s been working on the proposal wasn’t able to attend, but Berlin said he was told previously that the costs might be a little less on the commercial side through SAFEbuilt.

Berlin explained to Van Gundy how the city is looking at something new since it’s never had its own building department and there will be lots of questions.

“This is going to be a long process,” he said.

The agenda for the Finance Committee was supposed to include the 2019 budget, but there wasn’t enough time left. Another meeting will need to be scheduled regarding the budget.