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Legislation paying off for cities

Posted: August 18, 2011 - 8:17am

Bills passed last session are playing out for city governments in the central Peninsula.

Rep. Kurt Olson, R-Soldotna, helped usher a number of labor and commerce related bills through the legislative process this spring. Last month, Gov. Sean Parnell signed them into law.

House Bill 155 increased the threshold for when Little Davis-Bacon Act wages come into play. Previously, projects over $2,000 had to pay those wages. Now, projects can cost as much as $25,000 before LDBA wages kick-in. That’s the first increase in decades.

Kenai’s city manager Rick Koch said the city supported the change, which will help Kenai get projects accomplished more efficiently.

“That’s really long overdue,” Koch said.

It is not just the wages paid that help the city under the changed law. Reporting requirements are also different, and small projects can be carried out more smoothly.

Olson explained that contractors bidding on public projects have to do their payroll a certain way so that it is certified with the state’s Department of Labor. This will remove that requirement for the small projects.

Koch said he thought the less cumbersome process would encourage more smaller contractors to bid on public projects. The city typically has dozens of projects each year in the $2,000 to $25,000 range, he said.

“We’ve got one over at the airport,” he said, referring to repairs on the tube walkway upstairs.

Olson said Kenai is just one town that’s benefiting.

“That will cover 47 percent of the public jobs in the state,” Olson said.

Many of the projects that fall within the threshold now are road improvements, he said.

House Bill 130 will affect municipalities considering the 2009 International Building Code. The code requires sprinkler systems in one and two-family homes; cities can adopt whichever portions of the code they choose.

The bill requires 30 days notice for public hearings on the proposed adoption of the requirement. It also requires three public hearings in a period of 60 to 180 days.

While the Kenai Peninsula Borough doesn’t mandate a certain building code, local governments often enforce a building code of their own. The bill means that those governments have to have a more robust public process than they might otherwise require.

Koch said the legislation won’t change the process in Kenai.

“We’re going through a long public process on that so it doesn’t affect us,” Koch said.

Kenai had a work session to discuss the sprinkler requirement last spring. Residents and nonresidents filled the City Council’s chambers to give testimony both for and against such a requirement.

Koch said the city will likely consider the change this fall, but that he and others in the city administration are looking at alternatives to mandating the change. Right now they are looking at incentivizing sprinklers so that residents who chose to install them would get a tax credit equivalent to the cost of the system.

“It will give people the choice rather than mandate that they have to do that,” he said.

Any such program will also have to come before the city council, he said.

Not every city is considering the code, so they won’t all have to have such a discussion.

“We are not adopting it at this time,” Ed McLeod, Soldotna’s building official, said in a phone message last week.

Olson said he personally supports the sprinklers, but wanted to give communities the chance to have a discussion about the issue, rather than having bureaucrats make the decision for them.

“I think it should be a community’s decision,” he said.

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