Local contractors had a chance to ask questions and give feedback about Umatilla County’s plan to take over building inspection duties during a public meeting Thursday night.

The plan would see the city of Pendleton, acting on behalf of Umatilla County, take over building code inspections and plan reviews from the state for all areas of the county except Hermiston.

County planning director Tamra Mabbott said even though the state has expressed approval of the plan, it is still possible for the state to change its mind and “pull the plug.”

“It’s not a done deal until July 1 but we’re moving in that direction,” she said.

Pendleton Building Official John Lindstrom told contractors that when Pendleton does take over building code duties, his office will probably hire three people to cover the new workload. Inspectors will specialize in specific areas but also be cross-trained to pick up inspections in other disciplines when needed.

In order to keep the program in the black the plan calls for using Pendleton’s fee schedule instead of the state’s. That means a review of a 2,000-square-foot home would be $1,607.61, a increase of $371.90 from what the state charges but less than Morrow and Union counties.

A few audience members jumped in and voiced their displeasure at the increased fees, questioning why the county thought the public should be happy about the plan. County commissioner Larry Givens said the commission is pursuing this option because it has heard “for years” from contractors who said they would be happy to pay extra if it meant faster service.

Givens said right now the process of getting the go-ahead on a project often takes six weeks or more as plans are mailed back and forth to Salem. He said once Pendleton takes over it will take about 10 days for a residential project and 30 days for a commercial project in most cases — a turnaround time that will hopefully keep businesses from deciding to locate in a more shovel-ready area.

“We don’t want to see businesses and services locate across the river because they’re ready to go,” he said. “It costs all of us.”

He said for now the county is taking over the program on a two-year basis, so if it’s not working out the commission could hand the responsibility back to the state in two years.

The city of Hermiston has agreed to save some residents a trip to Pendleton by taking over building inspection and plan review duties in the designated “urban” section inside the city’s urban growth boundary. Mabbott said the urban section includes about a third of the urban growth area but adds land outside the city limits that Hermiston wasn’t previously responsible for inspecting.

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Contact Jade McDowell at jmcdowell@eastoregonian.com or 541-564-4536.

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