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Inspection process to be reviewed

MANATEE — Responding to concerned contractors and a fellow Manatee County commissioner, Chairwoman Gwen Brown plans to meet with the involved parties about a change in building inspection policy.

Brown said she and other commissioners heard from several business owners about the policy change that building department director John Barnott instituted in July, eliminating the “permit-by-affidavit” process.

“I’ve only heard one side,” Brown said. “That’s why I’m having the meeting. I want to see what we did that they say hurt their business.”

Permit-by-affidavit allowed contractors to hire an engineer or architect to design a project, then inspect the work to make sure it met minimal Florida Building Code requirements.

“This could be a conflict of interest,” Barnott said. “The engineer or architect is hired by the same contractor who pays them.

“Do you see any opportunity for pressure there?”

Barnott said he made the policy change because of complaints from homeowners.

Barnott also said the engineers or architects who used the permit-by-affidavit process did not have to post a bond for the quality of their work, as opposed to an alterative plans review and inspection process outlined in state codes.

That process, called “private providers,” requires the engineer or architect to carry at least $1 million in insurance for professional liability.

But Commissioner Carol Whitmore said the permit-by-affidavit process is part of the free market and should be continued. “Some have a good reputation, some not,” Whitmore said. “It’s the property owner’s responsibility to check.”

Greg John, who owns Pool Works LLC, said the process had been working well for him. “Under the new system,” John said, “the higher costs will be imposed on the customers.”

He said when he has dealt with the county, officials have always been helpful and courteous, but he felt their expertise could be put to better use on bigger projects, such as catching unlicensed contractors. Also, when he uses an engineer to do his inspections they are available to explain why the code is important.

Kent Kimes, a professional engineer who provided the permit-by-affidavit service, said the biggest issue is that under the private provider system the county charges for services they do not provide, such as inspections.

That could cost close to double what Kimes would charge a pool contractor, he said. “I understand there is some cost to the county to administer the private provider (process),” Kimes said. Also, he said with the permit-by-affidavit service he can respond quicker for inspections.

The code requires private providers to give a day’s notice before making an inspection, which can hold up a contractor, Kimes said.He said he felt the policy change was to bring more revenue into the building department to help reduce a $2 million deficit.

Contractors were not required to inform the homeowner that the permit-by-affidavit process was being used, and when there was an issue with workmanship or quality, the homeowner would call the county thinking it had done the inspection, he said.

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