City considers co-funding a building inspector

By Sarah Pridgeon

Representatives from the county and the cities of Sundance, Moorcroft, Hulett and Pine Haven are discussing a proposal to co-fund an official, certified building inspector for all four communities. Whether the idea can become reality, say Public Works Director Larry Schommer and Clerk Treasurer Kathy Lenz, is a question of both funding and problem-solving.
An official building inspector would benefit the Public Works Departments that currently lack the staff or licensing to be able to perform inspections themselves. He or she could be used to inspect both new building work and additions to old buildings, and also as a liaison to the Land Use Planning Committees.
Among the stumbling blocks that will need to be addressed before the project can move forward, however, the most pertinent issue with a single building inspector would be the logistics of distance. The four cities are separated by more distance than is reasonable to cover multiple times over the course of a working day.
“What would happen, for example, if someone in Sundance wanted to pour concrete and the inspector was over in Moorcroft?” suggests Schommer. “We would need to find a way to make that work without holding people up on construction.”
The second problem is that employing a building inspector would cost approximately $100,000 each year, split four ways between the cities. Although the county has facilitated the meetings, it would not participate in funding because it has no need for the service at the moment.
“We’re not sure how practical it would be for Sundance to use $25,000 of taxpayer’s money when we’ve only built two houses in town over the last year,” says Lenz. “We’re stringent with the builders we use for city construction, we require them to have contractor licenses and liability insurance, so we’ve never really had a problem.”
The State of Wyoming does not require building inspectors to be licensed, although banks and insurance companies do often require mortgage holders to perform an inspection through a licensed inspector.
“Although we’re not licensed, we’re knowledgeable. We can perform our own inspections in Sundance, though not being licensed can sometimes be a problem for mortgage holders,” says Lenz.
A mortgage holder is, however, free to commission a building inspector and is not required to go through the city to do so.
The $25,000 that Sundance would need to contribute could be difficult to find in this year’s budget. Right now, the city’s priorities are firmly rooted elsewhere.
“We’re looking at infrastructure and making improvements with the budget we have now, because we’re in the middle of our Level 1 Water Study and we’ll need major upgrades to the water system,” says Lenz. “We’re not against the idea, but we’re still researching it.”
There are additional drawbacks to sharing an official building inspector with three other cities that would need to be ironed out before the project could go ahead. “What happens if he wants a week off? Do we shut down building for that week?” says Schommer.
For a building inspector to be able to work in all four places, he adds, the towns would need to either make sure that every regulation and ordinance matches between the cities or require the inspector to be perfectly versed in the differences.
In the future, if the kinks in the project cannot be ironed out, the city may consider the alternative of adding a building inspector to its own staff.
“With the amount of training and schooling it would take to get licensed, we’re understaffed right now,” says Schommer. “We would be better off adding a licensed building inspector to the maintenance staff – it’s a possibility that has been talked about.”
The major benefit of a city building inspector, whether shared with other towns or dedicated to Sundance, would be to ensure that things are done properly during the future growth that the city is anticipating. With industrial growth expected in the area over the next few years, there may be a concurrent increase in construction activities.
“The builders we have here in town are very good, but the concern is that we wouldn’t be as familiar with builders who come in from out of state,” says Schommer. “Additions to old buildings are more common than new buildings right now, but that might change down the road.”