Thursday May 21, 2015
The South Burlington City Council held a public hearing May 18 on a proposed electrical safety ordinance that would shift responsibility for inspections from state code enforcers to a city manager appointed South Burlington electrical inspector. “The purpose of the proposed ordinance is to reduce the hazards to persons and property from the use of electricity within the City of South Burlington by requiring wiring or equipment for the transmission, distribution or utilization of electricity to be permitted and inspected by an electrical inspector appointed by the city manager. Such installations must be performed in accordance with the Vermont Electrical Safety Rules,” the ordinance reads.
South Burlington Fire Chief Brent and Deputy Chief Francis were on hand to explain the ordinance for councilors and the public. It was clarified that the ordinance does not apply to single family homes. In addition, Brent relayed that he had conducted a random survey of ten architects, contractors, and electricians on the idea of having a local electrical inspector. Brent personally called and spoke with all of the respondents himself and the results were overwhelmingly in support of the city having its own electrical inspector who would work in concert with the fire marshal. The concerns expressed by respondents involved the price and the potential for additional regulations, but Brent assured them the price would remain the same as the state currently charges and the current regulations would apply; the only change would be that a South Burlington inspector would be examining the premises rather than a state inspector.
Key provisions of the ordinance include, but are not limited to the following: no wiring or equipment for the transmission, distribution or utilization of electricity for any purpose may be installed until a permit is issued by the electrical inspector, wiring must be installed in accordance with the Vermont Electrical Safety Rules adopted by the Commissioner of the Vermont Department of Public Safety and the Vermont Electricians Licensing Board, and wiring must be inspected by the electrical inspector. If the work is found to comply with the provisions of the Ordinance and the Vermont Electrical Safety Rules, the electrical inspector will complete a certificate of approval for such work, authorizing connection to the source of supply for final testing and use of the installation. With limited exceptions, no person may engage in the business of installing or repairing electrical wiring, devices, appliances or equipment within the City of South Burlington without a master electrician license issued by the State of Vermont.
Having an electrical inspector of one’s own could have a multitude of benefits for the city, with perhaps similar advantages to having the city’s own fire marshal. In November 2012 Fire Marshal Terry Francis, a long time Burlington fire marshal, was hired to carry out inspections for the city instead of relying on the state fire marshal. As a result, the fees collected in South Burlington that previously went to the State, now stay in the city. At the time, Chief Brent said, “By having a local person to enforce the codes, we’ll be one step closer to the people we are enforcing them on.”
Prior to this, the department had to rely on state inspectors to issue permits or violations of fire codes. Since Francis’ hire, revenue from permits has been up substantially and continues to be a key component of the department’s annual budget.
After councilors discussed the ordinance, Chair Pat Nowak opened the floor for public comment. Residents voiced concerns and asked questions to clarify some of the terms used in the ordinance. One resident, who said he comes from a family of electricians, stressed that the city doesn’t need to add the expense of hiring more people since the city already has one of the highest tax rates in the state. He recommended continuing to use the state electrical inspectors rather than making residents be responsible for paying another salary. He pointed out that if the South Burlington electrical inspector needs to be out for any reason, the state will not come fill in.
Resident Kevin Donahue asked the council to consider having a city building inspector on staff before hiring an electrical inspector and cautioned against the requirement of having only master level professionals perform work, since they too, are fallible. Donahue cited his own home as an example where a master electrician performed faulty wiring which resulted in unnecessary expenses afterward.
After the public hearing was closed, Chris Shaw requested an opportunity to review the language in the Vermont State statute in order to compare it to South Burlington’s proposed ordinance, and to identify any inconsistencies. The ordinance will return for possible approval at the June 1 meeting.
SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent