Cass City village officials may not be happy with South Central Michigan Construction Code Inspections, but they are in favor of a countywide building code enforcement office.

And they let the Tuscola County Board of Commissioners know that during Monday’s Committee of the Whole meeting (at such sessions the commission can consider and discuss ideas and issues, but take no action).

The county commission has told Athens-based SCMCCI the contract to serve as the county’s building codes office will not be renewed. The contract expires Sept. 30.

The commissioners also have talked about putting the job of enforcing building codes on the local governments – townships, villages and cities.

That is not something the Cass City officials want.

“After Sept. 30, if we do not have a building codes department in place or the services being able to be rendered, then all development, all investment, all growth comes to a halt,” village manager Deb Powell told the commissioners, “because we are unable to continue it with the appropriate inspections. And that is a great concern.”

She said having a central agency means those trying to invest in the county aren’t dealing with a different codes group when it makes plans in different townships, villages or cities. She also said the county stands to lose the central database available when the county has one building codes office.

“To have that central location, to have that centralized database we feel is of critical importance,” she said.

“I think we have a good system right now with SCMCCI,” village council president Dan Delamarter said. “It is just that SCMCCI has failed to do their part of their bargain. I am talking about efficiency and where that organization should be. I think it should be at the county level.”

He said the county just needs to find a replacement for SCMCCI. The commissioners have asked for firms to bid to take over from SCMCCI, but are holding out the option of not taking anyone up on their offer.

District 5 Commissioner Dan Grimshaw told the Cass City delegation the village could contract with SCMCCI if it wanted that to continue.

“The fact is, it has become, over the course of time,” he said, “an issue that occupied far too much of the county board’s efforts to deal with South Central. And it shouldn’t.” He said having a centralized building codes office is “not efficient.”

Village council member Tom Herron, a contractor and builder, said the commission’s plan to shift the burden to the townships, villages and cities “will not work. … This process won’t work. It needs to be countywide. It needs to be done by professionals.”

Herron has built in St. Clair County, which does not have a central building codes department, but has shifted that responsibility to the local governments. “It’s a total disaster,” he said. “There was nothing worse, to me, than to have to go to a township for a permit.

“These small townships cannot afford to maintain a building codes (office). They don’t have the manpower or the qualifications. They are sometimes open one or two days a week. You have to make an appointment to get the permit. They don’t have the technology. They just cannot do it.”

He said townships will find it difficult to hire inspectors and they’ll have additional liability insurance to cover.

“What they are enforcing is in this code book,” he said. “And if the codes are not enforced they are open to liability if something happens.”

District 3 Commissioner Kim Vaughan said four of his townships want to retain the status quo and one wants to explore its options. Even though he said he has problems with SCMCCI’s enforcement of state building codes, he said his biggest issue is the distance between Caro and the Athens-based agency.

“They don’t serve anyone else around us,” he said. “Communication can be hard sometimes, to get businesses up and going.

“We don’t want an interruption (in inspections and code enforcement). The last thing we want is an interruption. That’s the last thing we want, no matter who is taking over. We want things to be going status quo.”

District 1 Commissioner Tom Young said all seven townships and five villages he represents want the county to continue to have a building codes office, but to find a more “user friendly” contractor.

District 4 Commissioner Doug DuRussel said Watertown and Millington townships are willing to set up their own offices, with a little guidance.

But Vaughan and Powell both said the county’s city and village managers prefer the county provide the service. Powell said the city of Vassar is going forward with its plans to open a building codes office led by McKenna, a community planning, design and building services firm headquartered in Northville, because it already had invested a good amount of money in the process.

District 2 Commissioner Thomas Bardwell voiced similar sentiments arising from his district. There will be a cost to decentralizing the office, he said. He said many of the townships in his area also are not open every day of the work week. And, he admitted, that might mean a township losing a project to another county where the service is easier to reach.

Bardwell favors centralization.

“But where this board has run into problems is in the interpretations of what is code and what is preference,” Bardwell said. “And what concerns me is if we have a multitude of entities contracting, unless they form an authority or something, could be the same problem. One township could allow something and another might not. That is a concern I have.”

He said the last thing the commissioners want to do is disrupt any development already underway or those planning to start. Even though the attacks on SCMCCI started before local inspector Curtis Stowe retired, Bardwell repeated his claim this didn’t become a problem until Stowe left the agency. He also said the commissioners failed to periodically see if anyone else could provide better service.

“Shame on us for not reviewing an RFP (request for proposals) (since 2002),” Bardwell said. “We RFP everything else just to make sure we are in line, that we have the best services for the money taxpayers give us. We make sure there is continuity within the communities for the services we are getting.”

Bardwell also seemed to answer a previous comment from DuRussel, who’d said he’d be glad if he never had to deal with a building codes issue again. DuRussel started on the commission in January.

“The bottom line is, no matter what happens, whoever sits on the board of commissioners,” Bardwell said, “whether (building codes) is an outside agency or not, or a township engaging in it, it does not preclude the problems don’t come back to the board. The board is the last resort of the people of Tuscola County.”

Bardwell encouraged residents to let their commissioner know what they want to see done so the county can move on “and do what is best for Tuscola County.”