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New state rule won't affect city's building boom

New building official began work this week in Warrenton

Sen. Betsy Johnson
By Cindy Yingst, Friday, June 8, 2018

New state regulations set to begin July 1 threaten to shut down some cities’ building programs.

A bipartisan group of legislators that includes Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, has gone into overdrive, attempting to quash the law before it goes into effect.

“This entire debacle is a clarion call for legislative engagement in the 2019 session,” Johnson said.

The new regulations – which would require cities to have building officials on staff -- were issued on an emergency basis by the state’s Building Codes Division. It followed a controversial Attorney General’s opinion, which contended cities and counties could only use public employees to perform permit and inspection services.

“(Their) actions pose incalculable risks to local government, jeopardize the construction of badly needed housing, create unnecessary confusion and potential legal liabilities and/or litigation,” Johnson said.

Warrenton City Manager Linda Engbretson attended the meeting last week in Salem.

“We have been following this since last year,” Engbretson said. “I attended … even though I believe the city of Warrenton is in good shape with a fully certified building official on staff.”

New employee Bob Johnston was to begin work May 31 as the city’s certified building official.

Johnson, along with Sen. Chuck Thomsen, R-Hood River, and Rep. Caddy McKeown, D-Coos Bay, have formed a coalition to fight the new regulations, which could stop cities from doing inspections and issuing permits if they use contractors instead of employees.

“We are in a housing crisis, and we can’t lose this building season,” Thomsen said at last week’s meeting. 

Erin Doyle, a lobbyist for the League of Oregon Cities, said the new rules especially hurt small cities with limited resources and whose, such as Warrenton, that are having a building boom and want to reduce the wait for permits and inspections.

“This impacts large and small jurisdictions across the state and the end losers are working Oregonians who just want a home for their families,” said Peter Watts, an attorney who represents several impacted jurisdictions. “If there are problems with the current program, we can work through them, but we can’t do this to people.”

Sen. Chuck Thomsen

Rep. Caddy McKeown

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