Seaford wants no part of state's construction code

By Tony E. Windsor

City officials in Seaford are hoping to make enough noise to bring attention to their opposition to a piece of legislature in the Delaware House of Representatives.
During a recent meeting of Seaford's Mayor and Council, Mayor Daniel B. Short voiced strong concerns about House Bill 399, which seeks to establish a statewide construction code.
H.B. 399 was introduced in June 1999 and is currently being held in the House Housing and Community Affairs Committee. The intent of the legislature is outlined in the bill as providing an opportunity to assure that building code inspectors throughout the state are "adequately trained" and that "obsolete, restrictive, conflicting and unnecessary" regulations are eliminated.
The bill states, "A multiplicity of construction codes currently exist in the state and some of these codes contain needless restrictions, which limit the use of certain materials, techniques or products without any benefits to the public.
"Moreover, the variation of construction standards caused by the multiplicity of codes, slows the process of construction and increases the costs of construction.
"The way to insure uniform, modern construction standards and regulations throughout the state is to adopt a uniform statewide construction code."
The proposed Uniform Statewide Construction Code also indicates that this would supercede and preempt all local building and maintenance codes regulating any aspect of "construction, alteration, repair use, occupancy and maintenance of buildings."
It would also prohibit any municipality from developing any future building codes for its jurisdiction.
Short said H.B. 399 poses a threat to Seaford's ability to carry out its duties to its citizenship.
"This bill is a serious infringement on our ability to work in our own management and direction regarding what we are doing here in the city," Short said.
"Our building officials have expertise that far exceeds what the state is proposing in this legislation."
Short has made local legislators aware of the city's concerns with the legislation; however, he recommended that a letter be drafted and sent to Delaware municipalities seeking their support in opposing H.B. 399.
City Manager Dolores Slatcher said H.B. 399 will not only take away the city's autonomy in conducting local building inspections, but will also take money away from the city.
"Based on this legislation, building inspection fees will revert to the state, not come to the city as it is now," she said.

"We already hear a lot of concern from people about having to go to Georgetown to pay building permit fees. Well, if we decide it becomes a financial hardship to continue doing the inspections locally and we have had enough, you may have to go somewhere else to pay these fees and deal with people you don't know," she said.
According to the language of H.B. 399, local municipalities who have building officials will set the fee base for inspection fees and building permits; however all of these funds will be deposited in a special state account to be used for the administration and enforcement of the code. "No fees shall be placed in the municipalitys general fund," the legislation states.
Though Seaford Building Official Charles Anderson declined to make comments about H.B. 399 when asked during the city council meeting, he did make it clear that The Lower Delaware/Maryland Building Officials Association has taken a stand against the legislation as well. Anderson is a member of the Association.
Short said he finds it very disturbing that state legislators would draft a bill that will regulate municipal building officials duties, but never ask for their input. "This is the worst type of legislation you can have," Short said. "They are expecting building officials to work under this legislation, but don't seek their input."
Slatcher added that H.B. 399 calls for establishing a special council that will oversee the Uniform Statewide Construction Code. She said, however, that there would be no local representation on that committee.
H.B. 399 states that a nine-member "Construction Code Evaluation Council" will be created and exist within the department. The governor will appoint members of the council within 60 days after the legislation is enacted. The council is to be made up of one state-registered architect; two state-registered engineers, one who is a mechanical and electrical engineer and one who is a structural engineer; one Delaware municipal code official; three construction engineers, representing the areas of commercial, industrial, residential, mechanical and electrical construction; one fire protection official and one representative of the training and certification program. Each member will serve a four-year term.
This council would review and approve proposed and existing rules and regulations regarding the Statewide Uniform Construction Code. It would also consider and rule on municipal petitions for permission to adopt an ordinance that differs from those stated in the construction code act.
Short said he wants the city's position on this legislation to be well known. "I want every dog-gone legislator in Dover to hear our opposition. I want anybody who will, to contact the legislators and let them know they're not happy with this proposal. Then I hope we all follow-up with e-mails.
"I want us to inundate them [legislators] with our message of opposition. This is such an important issue and I fear it could slip through the cracks up there in Dover," he said.