(Written by Jack Milarch – NMHBA EVP/CEO – Originally published in the December 2010 Housing Journal)
Major Change Needed In New Mexico’s Code Compliance Services
The “changing of the guard” at the highest levels of state government is always an interesting time around the association world, especially considering major change at the top occurs on an eight-year cycle. Widespread budget woes have given rise to the call for ideas for more efficiency in our government processes. For several years NMHBA has been promoting a series of ideas regarding our state and local code compliance activity that we believe will result in fewer delays, less cost for government, and higher quality services. The budget stresses, a new administration, and other developments have combined to create a newfound interest in our ideas. We believe our efforts are addressing problems which for many years have been the subject of statements like “Somebody should do something about that…”
Greater Flexibility and Better Efficiency in Code Compliance Services
Over the years one of the most frustrating problems we’ve dealt with revolves around contractor complaints that jobs are being held up, waiting for inspections. NMHBA staff and volunteer leadership have been called to various New Mexico communities on a regular basis to help contractors organize and pressure state (and sometimes local) inspectors to do their jobs in a more timely and organized manner. At one point we even worked with (then) Senator Lee Rawson to get over a million dollars specifically for the state’s KIVA inspection scheduling and tracking program. We’ve studied the problem and have come to the conclusion that the current methods of state and local code compliance services are wasteful and inefficient. We believe our state law unnecessarily restricts local code compliance departments, especially in smaller communities. Between the law and Construction Industries Division (CID) tradition, local departments don’t have access to code compliance tools commonly used by local governments throughout the western states. As an example, NMHBA, in conjunction with several local governments, has promoted the idea that nearby local governments should share code compliance services. CID began a “pilot” program for this several years ago, but generally has dragged its feet and has not made a good faith effort to allow this efficiency measure.
In light of all this NMHBA has prepared several bills for introduction into the upcoming 60-day Session of the Legislature. We are working closely with local chief building officials from around New Mexico on this project.
Bill Drafts Prepared And Presented to the Economic and Rural Development Committee
Representative Patty Lundstrom of McKinley/San Juan Counties, along with Representative Bill Gray of Eddy/Otero Counties, agreed to co-sponsor a bill addressing several of our issues. At the recent hearing of the Economic & Rural Development Interim Committee I presented the bill, which was supported by local chief building officials from around New Mexico. After a long discussion the committee agreed to “endorse” the bill. While much remains to be done, this is a good start.
(If you want copies of the bill drafts with a thumbnail explanation, please contact Melanie at the NMHBA office.)
What these bills do:
- Create a requirement for the position of local Chief Building Official (CBO) if a municipality/county wants to (under existing law provisions) adopt their own building codes and establish a building code compliance department. Current law does not establish clear authority and responsibility for a local CBO as the concept exists within our building codes.
- Allow the CBO to utilize qualified inspectors to do more than one type of inspection, such as a combination of plumbing and electrical inspections. Most western states and their local jurisdictions follow this model for effective and efficient code compliance activities. These concepts are fully supported by model code organizations.
- Clarify that public building construction within their jurisdiction may be permitted and inspected by the local CBO. CID currently claims most of this work for itself. This change will facilitate better local project coordination in planning, zoning, etc. while also helping to fund and stabilize the local code compliance programs.
- Remove requirement for CID to certify the local CBO’s field inspectors and yet leave everything in current law for CID to qualify and manage their own inspector qualification processes.
- Clarify the right of local governments to share building code compliance resources through joint agreements, thereby stabilizing and expanding locally based capabilities.
These bills do NOT:
- Contain provisions for “dismantling” or “sun-setting” the core functions of CID including contractor licensing, state code adoption, violation and dispute resolution and punishment, and functioning as the state’s default local code compliance service.
- Make changes to the manner in which the state, municipalities and counties currently adopt their building codes.
- Mandate that municipalities or counties create their own code compliance department or adopt their own building codes.
Private Inspection Services
Another tool for efficient and cost-effective code compliance efforts commonly used throughout the western states is private inspection services. This has traditionally been available to CID Bureau Chiefs, but not for local code compliance programs. The concept is simply to allow the local program CBO to utilize qualified private inspection services if he/she should choose to do so. We believe this is an important tool that completes our package of changes. While the bills outlined above do not include a provision allowing this, we have drafted an additional bill to allow it. We have been assured that Senator Clint Harden of Curry County will help us with this final effort.
Recently we sent a letter to the Local EOs and Presidents encouraging them to contact their local chief building official about this effort.