Building division staff looks for partnering opportunities

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By Jennifer Garcia

Those buying and selling homes in Los Alamos could be in for a more streamlined and timely process when it comes to home inspections.

In addition to the economic development presentation given by the LACDC, council discussed the impact of House Bill 219 on the Los Alamos Building Division and how the legislation affects the issuance of local building permits.

Currently, the Los Alamos Building division processes construction applications, provides plan review, issues building permits and provides inspection services for general construction work, while electrical and plumbing/mechanical inspection services have been provide the by the state construction Industries Division.

The authority for the Los Alamos activities is provided in the state municipal code, which provides general authority for municipalities to adopt a building code and section 3-18-6, which provides inspection authority to municipalities.

In 2007 the New Mexico Legislature passed and the governor signed into law HB 219, amending section 3-17-6 by consolidating some of the provisions relating to plan review, permitting and inspecting.

According to background information provided by the county, CID has interpreted this amendment as requiring local jurisdictions to provide full-service plan review, permit and inspection services for all building trades, including electrical and plumbing/mechanical.

Under this interpretation, CID will require that local jurisdictions such as Los Alamos, either provide full building services, or close their building division entirely, letting the state take over this function.

Since the bill’s passage in 2007, several jurisdictions have attempted to work with the state to modify the bill’s requirements. A bill in this year’s legislative session to delay the effective date of the act successfully passed through the legislature but never reached the governor’s desk for signature.

As it now stands, the act will take effect on July 1.

Community Development Director Rick Bohn briefed council on the bill and explained what it could mean for the county.

“We’re looking at two most likely options; transforming the existing building division, or eliminating the building division,” Bohn said.

He also told councilors that he was looking for council to provide him with some direction in which to go.

Building Official Chris Williams was also present and he spoke to council, as well.

“CID’s position is to provide full-service or let the construction industries provide those services,” Williams said.

Councilor Sharon Stover expressed concern over passing a motion because council received a letter from the CID stating that the matter had been referred to the attorney general because of its complexity.

Bohn assured Stover that passing a motion would simply say the council is interested in pursuing a full-service department, but regardless of whether the motion passed, Bohn made clear that he was looking for council direction.

Council Vice Chair Mike Wismer concurred with Stover.

“I agree with Councilor Stover on going down this path now. If a department in the state has this legislation, I’d think they’d have to be prepared to provide that,” he said.

He also asked if there was an opportunity for a regional set-up. Williams told Wismer that there’s clearly an opportunity for regional set-up.  

Councilor Robert Gibson said he also felt that other communities and opportunities should be explored before a full-service department was set up in Los Alamos. He then asked Williams what made sense, geographically, as far as partnering opportunities.

“Española, Taos and Santa Fe County, those are the closest municipalities we could partner with,” Williams replied.

Council Chair Michael Wheeler also agreed that exploring partnering opportunities with other municipalities would be the best route to take.

“Our purpose is to provide services to the community. We have an obligation to do this. This would give us local control and the opportunity to ensure timely inspections. It’s a real opportunity for us.”

Following the discussion, Gibson, seconded by Councilor Ralph Phelps, moved that council direct staff to explore possible partnering options with appropriate neighboring communities to jointly provide all required building inspection services and further moved that staff keep council advised on the status of the Attorney General’s review and other legal actions related to HB 219 implementation.

The motion passed 6-0; Councilor Vincent Chiravalle did not participate in the discussion or the vote.