COLUMBIANA - Little more than four months after they were all in agreement over pursuing a contract with the Mahoning County Building Department for commercial and industrial inspections, city council members are now debating whether to move forward.
The matter was brought up yet again at last week's meeting, with council members questioning whether they had even acted on the matter and Municipal Attorney Daniel Blasdell arguing that they did.
Councilman Tom Ferguson said he didn't recall voting on contracting with the county department.
"I don't think we voted up or down on this process yet," he said, adding that he is against using the neighboring department for the inspections.
"I would not have voted for it. I want to see evidence" that we did, he said.
Blasdell argued that he believed council had acted on the matter and noted Mahoning County Commissioners are waiting for the city's residential building inspector to take the certification test before signing off on the already prepared contract.
Bob Belding has worked as the city's residential inspector the last two decades. He is scheduled to take the certification test at the end of the year, which the city has already paid for.
Following some back and forth between Ferguson and Blasdell, Council Clerk Deann Davis was called upon to read aloud from the April 3 meeting minutes in which all council members agreed to have Belding take the certification test and for an ordinance to be drafted for contracting with Mahoning County.
According to the meeting minutes, Councilmen James King, Bob Bieshelt and Bryan Blakeman said they preferred to contract with the county for one year on a trial basis. Although Council President Lowell Schloneger was against contracting with the county, he approved Belding's certification and having an ordinance drafted.
The ordinance has not officially put before council for a vote, however.
Blasdell said the documents are prepared but cannot be put through until Belding passes the certification test. A copy of the unsigned contract was given to council members.
Blakeman then questioned why the county is waiting for Belding since that department would not be conducting residential inspections. He also questioned the need for his certification in the first place.
Blasdell told Blakeman he was advised by the Mahoning County prosecutor that in contracting with the county the city department would become a subsidiary of the county department, and as such, certification is necessary.
"My concern is that if we did that without Belding being certified, we'd have a building department with no people," he said.
Belding is the only employee of the city department and has been inspecting one-, two-, and three-family dwellings over the last several years.
The county department is already certified, which is why council members were leaning toward allowing them to conduct commercial and industrial inspections. The matter came up in April after someone had complained to State Rep. Craig Newbold that the city was not in compliance with the state since the department was not certified. In order to enforce a state code, an inspector and building department must be certified.
Commercial and industrial inspections have always gone through the state, which Blakeman had previously said is costly and time-consuming.
Blasdell pointed out again that the city department is not required to become certified but could declare itself autonomous and enforce it's own council-approved code. He said that having Belding continue to conduct inspections without certification would not be a violation of any law.
"In terms of consequence, there is none. Bob will continue to function as he has the last 20 years. Residential building arrangements will proceed unaffected until he takes the test and passes," he said.
King then asked why the county department "cares" whether Belding is certified or not.
Blasdell said it is not the county but the state that cares.
"The state wants this department to be a subsidiary of the Mahoning County department. But my statement is, I don't want that if we don't have an employee who is certified," he said.
Ferguson said he doesn't want the city department to be a subsidiary of the county department and opposes the move.
Schloneger said he was also not in favor of allowing the county to take over the commercial and industrial inspections based on the fact that local contractors have told him they are also against it.
"I wouldn't understand why you wouldn't want it, unless you are afraid of oversight," Blakeman said, and pointed out that the county department charges less for permits and uses the same code the state uses.
Planning Commission member Richard McBane then approached council to remind them that a group of local contractors also told him they didn't wish to have the inspections performed by the county. He said they didn't want to go on the record since they sometimes work with the county department and didn't want to "jeopardize" that relationship.
"I personally am not convinced that this move is a progressive move. I personally am not convinced that we have a broken system," Ferguson said, to which King responded, "If we weren't going to do this why did we spend money to have Bob certified?"
Blasdell also said they should have made it known earlier that they did not wish to move forward. "If you're not going to sign (the contract) tell me now," he said.
Mayor David Spatholt said council should have a decision for Blasdell at the next regular meeting.