The City of Milton Common Council approved on June 4 five actions all of which were required to hire Portage-based General Engineering Company (GEC) to perform commercial building inspections within the city.
City Administrator Al Hulick said the city is “incredibly fortunate” to have Director of Public Works Howard Robinson on staff who is able to perform commercial building inspections, but with recent growth, defined by Hulick as “$44 million worth in new value,” the city had reached a “tipping point.”
Hulick said the city has seen “building permits at an unprecedented level, and at least in the foreseeable future we don’t see that changing. The amount of development proposals that we review on a regular basis, whether those come to fruition or not, are just beyond anything that we’ve seen in the past.”
To meet growing demand, Hulick said, Robinson had recommended that the city consider contracting with an outside firm for commercial building inspections. Residential building inspections would still be handled in-house, Hulick said, and building permits would still be issued by the city. The city would still perform small-scale site plan reviews.
Once a commercial building was completed, city staff would direct that builder to GEC for inspection, Hulick said.
Staff chose GEC because the company is currently the provider of inspection services for the city’s utility departments and provides inspection services in “many other communities” across the state, Hulick said, calling GEC a “known entity.”
He described Milton as a small community that was transitioning into one of “mid-growth.”
Hulick said: “The economy will certainly downturn at some point, but what we have seen in Milton is that we are growing at a faster rate than any other community in Rock County.
“When you become a larger community, like a Janesville, you are going to have multiple inspectors on staff … we are certainly not there yet, but this is the interim step as growth continues to occur.”
Council approved the following five actions:
• Language updates within the electrical and plumbing code sections of the city’s ordinance regulating building construction. Changes were made to bring code “up to date” with state code references and numerations, a memo to council from Hulick stated.
“It creates a level of conformities so building inspectors coming in or architects who are reviewing our ordinance have a common set of language that they see throughout the state,” Hulick said.
• Added provisions within the city’s ordinance regulating commercial building inspections, allowing council to delegate its authority to inspect the construction of commercial buildings to another entity.
• Authorized a contractual agreement between GEC and the city for commercial inspections.
• Authorized the submittal of an application for delegated municipal authority to the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services. The application indicates that GEC will be performing commercial building inspections in the city, Hulick said.
• Established a new fee schedule for building permits. The new schedule establishes fees that are compatible with the fees charged by GEC, Hulick said.
Councilmember Larry Laehn asked about the city’s liability, and which entity, the city or GEC, might be responsible if a citizen or developer had complaints.
“From a general standpoint, complaints are kind of like air pollution: they don’t care about boundaries. So they are going to come regardless,” Hulick said.
“This will certainly be a new process for commercial building inspection,” Hulick said, adding, the new system would be an “educational process for the community,” and like any other contracted service, the city would listen to public concerns.
Answering from a legal standpoint, City Attorney Mark Schroeder said if someone believed a commercial inspection was not performed appropriately, they would likely look to the city and the contractor.
In determining responsibility, he said: “Perhaps (the city’s) insurance carrier would be looking to GEC and its insurance carrier. Part of the (contractual) document is to require a minimum liability of $1 million. And that’s fairly common in terms of a relationship.”
Councilmember Lynda Clark asked about a need to go out for bids before awarding a contract.
Hulick said bids are not required when hiring professional services.
Addressing questions about the financial terms of the contract, Hulick said: “This is a contract in which they are paid for the work they do only. There is no kind of retainer or set fee, so in the unlikely event that the spigot turns off and development ceases to exist in the city of Milton, if there’s no development, there’s no inspections to be conducted so therefore there would be no costs.
“There are out clauses within the contract that both parties can exercise.
“In the event that development slows down, we may want to look at bringing this back in-house, but I don’t see that as very likely, especially in the short term.
“I believe the toothpaste is out of the tube, development is occurring. I don’t see it slowing down,” Hulick said.
“I’ve been reading that it is a yearly contract, so we can always look at it again at the end of a year,” Councilmember Ryan Holbrook said.
Looking into the future, Hulick said: “If Howie does retire, hiring a new commercial building inspector on staff would be incredibly costly, so retaining this relationship with GEC, or any other commercial building inspecting firm, would likely be the path we would take anyway.”
Responding to questions about commercial fees, Hulick said: “We did not have commercial fees before. They were all kind of handled under one category, whether it was residential or commercial. So a commercial permit is a new concept, in title only. If somebody were to build a 100,000-square-foot building out in the industrial park, the permit fees that they would take for fixtures, for faucets, and things like that, were all handled under one permit fee.
“(GEC) fees are new in name only. Those fees already existed and were pretty similar to what we’ve already seen, and in a few cases, they are less.”