ROSEBORO — After much debate, and some commissioners not offering their approval, the town has decided to contract their fire inspection services through the county.
Board members were informed during the January meeting that the time had come for the town to make a decision about the fire inspection process — allowing fire inspections to be done by the county on a contractual basis, but leaving the responsibility of billing and collection on the town. The only other choice the town had was to hire someone to do inspection in the town of Roseboro and its extraterritorial jurisdiction area.
For years, all fire inspections within Sampson and its towns have been conducted by the county, which simply cannot continue doing that without fees and more personnel, Emergency Management director Ronald Bass has said. Due to a high volume of inspections, county personnel are behind on completing jobs.
State law indicates that counties are under no statutory obligation to offer such services within incorporated municipalities. The cost of building inspection services is offset somewhat by the fees paid by those citizens or contractors requesting such services. However, the absence of a similar fee for fire inspections does not allow the county to recoup costs.
Commissioners learned at the January meeting that the town would serve the county has a collection agency, being held responsible for collecting payment of the inspections done with the town’s limits, as well as the town’s ETJ area.
According to Tony Blalock, town clerk, the county has said there will be between 85-88 inspections the town would be responsible for collecting each year. Larger manufacturing businesses would be required to be inspected each year and small businesses would be inspected every three years.
“Sampson County, like a lot of other jurisdictions, has not been able to meet the mandated schedule,” Blalock said.
In January, commissioners had many questions for the county before agreeing to a contract to cover the inspection services. At that time, both commissioners Ray Clark Fisher and Richard Barefoot expressed their dislike of the situation and made their disapproval apparent during Tuesday night’s meeting when they voted against a motion made to contract with the county.
“They pass the cost on to us,” Fisher said. “I don’t like it. They are putting the cost on our citizens.”
According to Blalock, the county staff will perform the inspections, leave a bill with the business and send a copy of the bill to the Roseboro town office. The town’s staff will then be responsible for collecting and processing the payments.
“We are going to have to supply the staff to do all this,” Fisher explained. “We collect the fees and worry about it, then the county will just say, ‘thank you.’”
During the January meeting and again Tuesday night, Barefoot toyed with the idea of the town not participating, to which Blalock said, the town doesn’t have a choice.
“The N.C. General Assembly is the one that passed this law,” Blalock shared. “We are going to have to participate. The question is, do we want contract with the county to do our inspections or do we on our own try to find qualified inspectors to do that job for us.”
Fisher was adamant that he would not vote for the responsibility.
“They’ll just have to come down here and fine us for it,” Fisher said. “I’m not voting for it.”
Initially, Blalock admitted, there would a great deal of work on the town, having to learn which businesses need to be inspected on which schedule. Once the town learns which businesses Roseboro is responsible for inspecting, Blalock said the collection process wouldn’t consume that much time.
In September, Bass submitted a request for additional staffing and a fee schedule that would allow the county to conduct fire inspections countywide to meet the requirements of the Fire Prevention Code as of July 1, 2016. The fees will ensure no additional cost is shouldered by the county. According to the county’s approved proposal, inspection fees will range from $50 for structures 5,000 square feet up to $250 for those greater than 100,000 square feet.
Businesses with ABC licenses and permits will be charged an additional fee.
“I have to pay an additional $150 because I have an ABC licenses,” Barefoot said. “A fire inspection is a fire inspection, whether you sell a beer or don’t sell a beer.”
An invoice for all inspection and permit fees will be issued to the respective business, which will remit all fees to the jurisdiction. Each jurisdiction will be responsible for collections and the Fire Marshal’s Office will provide a monthly statement for payment to each municipality.
If the county continues to perform all the inspections, two additional inspectors would be needed, Bass said at the time. If the City of Clinton — where the majority of the inspections are conducted — assumes inspections within the city limits, only one additional inspector would be necessary, he noted. With the City Council’s decision to hire a fire inspector made at last week’s meeting, only one inspector will be necessary in the county.
Commissioner Anthony Bennett made the motion for Roseboro to contract with the county. Once the motion was on the table, commissioners Bennett and Cyndi Templin voted in favor of the contract, with Barefoot and Fisher voting against. In the absence of commissioner Cary Holland, Mayor Alice Butler broke the tie and voted to enter into the contract with Sampson County.
Reach Kristy D. Carter at 910-592-8137, ext. 2588. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd. Like us on Facebook.