Mille Lacs County commissioners unanimously want to opt out of the state building code.
The Union-Eagle interviewed the five commissioners about the matter following their Feb. 4 work session discussion on it.
The commissioners are board chairman Phil Peterson, Milaca township, Dave Oslin, Isle, Tim Wilhelm, rural Princeton, Genny Reynolds, city of Princeton, and Roger Tellinghuisen, Milaca Township.
Peterson noted that the county adopted the state building code in 2004 and the vote was not unanimous – Commissioners Dick Satterstrom, Bob Hoefert and Roger Neske voted yes, and Commissioners Peterson and Frank Courteau voted no. Peterson is the only remaining commissioner from that board.
Later in 2008 the state passed a law prohibiting counties that had adopted the state building code to opt out of it, Peterson continued.
Peterson and other fellow commissioners cited their recently completed comprehensive plan as a reason to opt out of the state building code.
Many residents who gave input for forming the plan, spoke “loud and clear” that they want the county to reduce its taxes, rules and regulations, Peterson said.
If a contractor performs “shoddy craftsmanship” they’re not going to last, and people still have to build up to the building code, said Peterson.
“How much government do we need to watch what people do?” Peterson asked.
He added that there will still be safeguards in place such as the required electrical inspection.
“That’s a good thing, because electricity can burn down a house,” Peterson said.
To try to opt out of adoption of the state building code, the County Board has to pass a resolution and then a bill would have to be carried through the Legislature, Peterson said.
Reynolds said the present setup for adopting the state code should be changed.
“Either make it so all adopt it or let them opt out (if they want),” Reynolds suggested.
Like Peterson, Reynolds said inspections would still be done for work such as electrical and septic systems. Not adopting the state building code would be one less fee, she said.
Wilhelm said that only a handful of out-state counties have adopted the state code. What Wilhelm said he doesn’t like about adopting the state code is that the state started to add more requirements that the counties like Mille Lacs must then oversee and yet not receive state funding to do that.
“We need more information if we can get out,” Wilhelm added. “We need safe, quality construction.”
Oslin said code enforcement costs the county a lot of money.
Oslin and Tellinghuisen both echoed Peterson about the board having received a lot of public feedback that residents want fewer regulations. Oslin also objected to the county not having a say on what it has to do after adopting the state code.
Oslin said the board has a committee assigned to go through the county’s regulations to see how it can make Mille Lacs more competitive with other counties by not being “regulation heavy.”
Tellinghuisen said he doesn’t think it was fair the state wouldn’t let the counties who opted in, not be able to opt out later. Tellinghuisen said it would be preferable to have rules and regulations that better fit Mille Lacs County, which he calls “unique.”
The county is unique in that its south end has a lot of commuters with generally more income, while the north end residents generally have lower income, plus the county has a big elderly group, Tellinghuisen explained.
Tellinghuisen also said he doesn’t think that not adopting the state code will be an open invitation to not adhere to sound and safe construction.
“We would not let everyone run wild and do as they please,” he said.
The board has asked State Rep. Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, and State Sen. Dave Brown, R-Becker, to see what they can do in the legislative session that opens this month in St. Paul to help the county opt out.
“I don’t expect we will get a phone call (from the state) saying, ‘Yes, you can opt out,’” Tellinghuisen said. “I expect some red tape.”