(Written by Jack Milarch – NMHBA EVP/CEO – Originally published in the September 2008 Housing Journal)

Why CID Must Change

NMHBA leadership is taking the position that our state and local construction code compliance verification processes must make a big change. As faithful readers know, we have been both good supporters and sometimes harsh critics of the Construction Industries Division over the years. It has become increasingly apparent to us that our industry’s regulatory system is just too dysfunctional to accomplish the rapidly expanding job that has been assigned to them. We have taken the unusual step of drafting a “white paper” study on the subject of code compliance processes and have circulated that document to CID management, the NM Municipal League, and to all state legislators. We strongly believe the changes we’re advocating are important to both local and state economic development, to building energy efficiency goals, and, probably most importantly to our contractors and customers, to the efficiency and effectiveness of the code compliance processes throughout the state of New Mexico. After cussing and discussing related problems for many years, your NMHBA leadership decided it was time to put a plan into action. Below are some of the reasons why we came to this conclusion and what this means to you.

New Mexico lags far behind other western states and local governments in how we go about our code compliance inspection processes. At the same time the job of CID is rapidly expanding, both from pressures by the governor’s office and by CID’s own initiatives. In recent years they have added new energy efficiency features to our codes (more inspections and plan review expertise required), increased our licensing requirements to include a new $10,000 code bond (more complaint “adjudications” are inevitable now that money will be available), and a soon to be started continuing education requirement (over 30,000 contractors and journeyman impacted). In addition, the Attorney General’s office is pushing for even more consumer protection (see President Crowder’s article in this Housing Journal).

Problems extend from CID down to our cities and counties, and to be fair I have to say some of the problems are caused by CID and some are caused by our local governments. Those who attend NMHBA meetings regularly will recall the discussions about the continuing litany of “problem areas” where getting timely inspections was impossible. Rio Rancho’s problems have been a very long standing issue for HBA of Central NM contractors. Silver City, Hobbs, Dona Ana County, Alamogordo and Clovis were often the subject of discussions about days and sometimes weeks of waiting for an inspection.

Our local governments can often share the blame for their habits of underfunding and understaffing their plan check and inspection departments. Cities and counties often “cherry pick” the system, taking the relatively easy general building and plan check part of the process, while leaving the more difficult plumbing, electrical and mechanical plan check and inspection to CID. By dividing the work that way neither CID nor the local government has enough to make it efficient. Which brings us around to HB-219, which passed the 2007 Legislature and was signed by Governor Richardson. We have nicknamed that legislation the “all or nothing” bill.

HB-219 says local governments must make a choice by July of 2009. They must choose to either provide all code compliance services or give them all to CID. While different motivations have been speculated about this bill, from benign to downright evil, we believe the goal of the change is for more effective and efficient delivery of code compliance services. Should your city/county go with state or local? We continue to believe things go better for our contractors and our customers when plan checks and inspections services are efficiently delivered from the local level. That seems to be the opinion of most local governments too. Although that all sounds good, there’s a big problem with the concept.

As local officials studied this dilemma over the last year, they have come to the same conclusion as us – current law, rules and traditions of CID are structured such that it would be very difficult and expensive for small and mid-sized communities to succeed in “taking it all”. New Mexico Municipal League has become very involved recently, and this issue was the subject of much discussion in the halls and from the podiums at the NMML annual meeting recently held in Clovis.

This article doesn’t allow space for me to go into all the details of why we and many local officials believe they can’t succeed under the current systems CID has in place. I encourage you to contact your local code officials and be sure they are working on this, and to get your local HBA leadership involved with them in solving this dilemma.   As I mentioned, NMHBA has prepared a “white paper” outlining the problems from both the CID and local government points of view, along with research from surrounding states and suggestions for appropriate change. You may obtain a copy of this paper via email by calling Melanie at NMHBA. If you end up being directly involved with this issue I strongly encourage you to read the NMHBA white paper. We also encourage you to contact your legislators about this issue. Our lobbyists, myself, and Randy Crowder are available to discuss this issue with your leadership and your local officials.