Panel moves SAFEbuilt bid toward approval

SALEM — City council’s Committee of the Whole Monday made two moves that could lead to SAFEbuilt becoming the city’s building department for plan review and inspections for both commercial and residential construction.

If approved by council, that means residents doing projects at their home or contractors doing residential or commercial work will need to follow state rules which will be administered by SAFEbuilt at city hall.

Currently, contractors for commercial projects already follow state rules, but the plan reviews and inspections are done through the state building department. As for residential, there’s currently no oversight by the city or the state, except for plumbing through the Columbiana County General Health District and zoning permit requirements through the city. The city checks to ensure a deck is the right distance from a property line, not whether it’s built to code.

In a 5-2 vote, the committee agreed to send an ordinance to council to adopt and enforce the Ohio Revised Code section for both commercial and residential construction. In a 6-1 vote, the committee agreed to send an ordinance to council to contract with SAFEbuilt for building department services, after determining the fees and other details for the service agreement.

In both cases, Councilman Andrew Null moved for the ordinances. After a slight pause, Councilman Sal Salvino seconded the first ordinance for adopting and enforcing the rules for both commercial and residential. For the second ordinance for SAFEbuilt, after another pause, Councilwoman Cyndi Baronzzi Dickey finally seconded the motion. Dickey chairs the committee.

Councilmen Geoff Goll and Ron Zellers both voted against adopting and enforcing the rules for both commercial and residential. When asked why, Goll said he had no problem with the commercial part, but didn’t favor the residential fees. He said he had a real problem putting on what amounts to $4,000 in additional fees for new home construction from the residents.

“My problem is the residential fees and deposits,” he said.

Zellers didn’t like the idea of the residential and what it will mean to residents.

“I don’t think it’s right that somebody’s gonna have to get a permit to change their hot water tank,” he said.

According to the fee schedule provided by SAFEbuilt, there would be a $15 permit fee to put in a new hot water tank.

For the second ordinance to contract with SAFEbuilt, Goll questioned how they could forward an ordinance without a service contract in front of council, without figuring out the fees. He moved for an amendment to contract with SAFEbuilt after determining the fees and other details.

Zellers was the lone vote against the ordinance to contract with SAFEbuilt. When asked why, he said he’s just not in favor of it and said there should be a way of opting out for the commercial. He explained that the building owner or contractor should have the option of going with SAFEbuilt or using the state. He said many of the contractors who have been around for awhile have good relationships built up with the state personnel and know what they have to do and know what to expect.

Both ordinances will have to come before city council, but Dickey said there’s still lots of work to be done before a final decision will be made.

SAFEbuilt Regional Operations Manager John Cheatham spoke to the committee regarding the firm’s proposal and reviewed the proposed fee schedule, noting that the fees listed are at the minimum price to start out and are generally reviewed every one or two years. He said the section for residential deposits and service fees would be up to council’s disgression. He explained the deposits as protection for the city in case something occurs to damage city property, such as messing up the curb. The deposits could help cover the cost of repairs.

Goll questioned whether the deposits were accumulative, noting that adding them all up comes to about $4,000 for a new home. Cheatham, though, said the contractor or homeowner would get all that back in most cases. He said it’s the city’s money. The city can choose to adopt some of those deposits or not.

He said for a plan review, in some cases, there may be no fee charged. He also said that in maybe 1 percent of cases, SAFEbuilt would require architectural drawings for residential construction. He said “the residential code is a prescriptive code,” explaining that the firm tries to reach a consensus when it comes to residential plans and only in rare cases would architectural plans be required where something was not going to meet the intent of the building code.

He also said there’s no retroactive enforcement regarding remodeling or additions. When they go into a house, they focus on the area where the work is being done. If the whole building is being remodeled, then an analysis of the whole building can be requested, but if just adding a room or adding a porch, “the code is limited to the scope of the work you’re doing.”

The permit fee covers all inspections and re-inspections and everything is appealable through the state for commercial and through the Board of Zoning Appeals for residential.

Zellers questioned if Louisville and Alliance, two other cities going with SAFEbuilt, were doing both residential and commercial, would Salem be able to just do commercial? The answer was no. Cheatham said it’s not worth it for SAFEbuilt to just do commercial because “the revenue isn’t enough to stand alone.” He said council owes it to the residents and their constituents to have oversight and indicated that Salem is “blessed and fortunate” that no issues have come up with residential construction since there hasn’t been any oversight.

The contract would be for one year, but would include an opt out clause with 30 days notice at any time. If the city would become unhappy with SAFEbuilt, the city could end the contract with the proper notice. The company is serving 40 communities in Ohio with building department services. Cheatham said he’s only known of four communities to pull out of their contract and all were for political reasons. In three cases, new mayors were elected and proceeded to reverse everything the previous administration had done. In a fourth case, he said the mayor in the community insisted the company approve something illegal, which they refused to do so he opted out after 30 days. If approved, SAFEbuilt will set up shop in city hall.

Some members of the Downtown Salem Partnership were in attendance for the meeting. That’s the group that brought the idea of using SAFEbuilt to city council.