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Farmington considers testing for contractors

FARMINGTON — If some members of the city’s Building Code Advisory Committee have their way all general contractors working in the city limits of Farmington will have to pass a general construction competency exam before being allowed to obtain a business license to do any commercial work. A similar requirement for contractors working on residential properties has been removed from the proposed ordinance.

A lengthy discussion was held Monday evening during a public hearing on “an ordinance amending the Municipal Code of the city of Farmington, Title IV, Business License, regarding licensing requirements for contractors.” Three people spoke in addition to city council members and city employees — a licensed contractor who sits on the building code advisory group, one of the city’s busiest developers, and a business owner who recently acted as his own general contractor on the renovation of his historic building.

The issue in question is whether or not the council should pass legislation requiring all general contractors who wish to do commercial work within the city limits to pass a uniform competency exam. As presented Monday evening, all new contractors would have to pass the exam and have at least six years experience or education to obtain a business license to operate. Existing contractors already licensed by the city would have until 2014 to pass the exam in order to renew their business license and continue to work in the community.

Throughout the discussion it was mentioned repeatedly that the ordinance given to the council for consideration was a “starting point” and could be modified prior to being approved. For nearly an hour different aspects of the proposed amendment were taken to task by assorted council members.

Only one member of the Building Codes Advisory Committee was on hand for the hearing. Rodney Miller, of Total Electric, addressed the council on the need for such certification as seen from his viewpoint as an operating contractor in the community. He said a recent change in state law requires that all plumbing contractors pass a competency exam to obtain a business license. With that move, he added, it seemed a fitting time to consider similar testing for other contractors working in the community.

Miller said the committee was proposing the city require a standardized 100 question written exam at a cost of $90. It was further explained that the test would be an “open book” exam utilizing nationally-accepted building code regulations. Existing contractors at the time the law was adopted would have two years to pass the exam and renew an existing business license. Anyone cited for three major code violations would lose their license and have to take the exam again in order to qualify for a new business license to operate in the community.

Developer Matt Burgess said he understood the concept behind requiring the testing, but felt it created an unnecessary hardship on contractors who were trying to stay busy in tough economic times. He said he could see perhaps implementing the qualification testing once the economy improved and commercial building began to increase significantly, but not at this time. He said he often serves as general contractor on his projects, adding that he pays a lot of money for engineering plans and qualified subcontractors to assure the construction is done properly. Further, he added, the city has a building inspector who checks the work at every step to assure it is completed to code before work can continue to the next phase.

The third person to speak up on the topic was John Bennett, co-owner of Bauhaus Kaffee. He said he paid for architectural plans to renovate his historic building downtown, then relied on qualified subcontractors to complete the work he wasn’t qualified to tackle. He said he had a relative who was a licensed engineer who assisted with answering questions throughout the process. While his initial comments seemed to indicate he was against the proposed licensing plan for anyone acting as a general contractor, when pressed for his position on the topic by Mayor Stuart “Mit” Landrum, Bennett said he was reluctantly in favor of the licensing requirement.

The question was asked if a general contractor utilized all qualified subcontractors would the general contractor be required to have passed the competency exam? A portion of the proposed ordinance banning unlicensed contractors from advertising for work within the city limits was also questioned. Miller responded by saying the version the council members were given was not the final draft as proposed by the building code committee.

Councilman Mark Kellogg later requested that a second public hearing be held before any action was taken on the change to existing ordinances implementing the testing requirement. No action on the change in law was introduced or acted on during Monday night’s council meeting. The idea was simply discussed in a public hearing prior to the regular council meeting.

In other action, the council gave verbal approval to a request by the owners of Bauhaus Kaffee to seek a state liquor license to serve alcohol in the business. For years the state law prohibited issuance of a liquor license for a business within 100 feet of a church or school building. A recent change in the law now allows a municipality to issue the opportunity to seek a state license if the church or school in question is notified and given a chance to provide argument against the request.

The owners of Bauhaus Kaffee provided documentation that they had notified the church adjacent to their business about their request and the topic to be brought up during the council meeting. No one spoke up at the council meeting to oppose the request. Now the restaurant owners can apply for a liquor license to be issued by the state of Missouri.

And council members got their first official glimpse at new Public Works Director Larry Lacy, who began work Monday morning. Lacy, not the longtime policeman Larry Lacey who still works for the city in that capacity, comes to the public works director position with a degree in civil engineering and a lengthy work history.

City Administrator Greg Beavers said Lacy was hired following a lengthy and thorough search process involving several city officials, council members and the mayor. He said the new director is committed to making a go of it in Farmington and has already relocated to the community and purchased a home. Two projects which will garner Lacy’s immediate attention will be the ongoing radionuclide contamination filtration project and the ongoing effort to better handle stormwater runoff across the community.

The council will meet next on June 9.

Doug Smith is a reporter for the Daily Journal. You can reach him at 573-756-8927, or at dsmith@dailyjournalonline.com.

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