Max Denning

When the City of La Grande lost a city employee who worked as its electrical inspector — reviewing building and constructions plans for compliance with City ordinances — it had trouble finding a qualified replacement.

“Frankly, it is difficult to compete with the private sector for trade professionals with the required licenses that are needed to become certified as an electrical inspector,” City Manager Robert Strope said.

So when Sen. Bill Hansell (R-Athena) and Rep. Greg Barreto (R-Cove) held a discussion with local officials in last July at Eastern Oregon University, officials from La Grande broached the idea of passing a state law allowing cities to hire contractors to do electrical inspections. Hansell now has introduced Senate Bill 314, which would do just that.

SB 314’s catch line states the bill “allows municipalities with building inspection program that includes administration and enforcement of electrical code to use contracted electrical inspectors.”

The bill makes it clear that municipalities could still have a full-time electrical inspector, and has only a few lines of amendments to the statutes that currently set the legal standards for electrical inspections — ORS 479.530, 479.820 and 479.855.

The major change can be found on pages three to four of SB 314, where it adds a clause in a statute: “A city or county may use employees or contract for electrical inspection services to carry out the county or city responsibilities regarding inspections under the electrical safety laws.”

When Strope originally contacted the state about using a contractor for electrical inspections, the state told him that was illegal.

“The reason provided to us was that we could not delegate government functions to contractors,” Strope said. “Because the decisions made by building officials are both regulatory and discretionary, those decisions must be made by government employed personnel.”

That put the city in a bind. With less financial resources than private companies, hiring a certified electrical inspector was difficult. According to the job posting website Zip Recruiter, the average annual salary for an electrical inspector is $65,211.

“Without the option of contracting out the services, we were not sure we would be able to continue to provide electrical inspections for La Grande and Union County,” Strope said.

While city officials were searching for a new electrical inspector and also hoping the state law would soon change, La Grande received some help from the state.

“The Building Codes Division was able to help us by providing inspection services for a number of months, but that was only a temporary solution,” Strope said.

Last month, Hansell’s SB 314 was referred to the Senate Committee on Business and General Government. Hansell said the bill is important for helping rural cities and counties.

See complete story in Monday's Observer