By Kathi Bliss
What was expected to be a quick and easy housekeeping item became complicated on Tuesday evening as members of the Lockhart City Council tried to weigh building codes over building needs.
According to information released recently by the Insurance Service Office (ISO), the City of Lockhart’s Code of Ordinances needs to be upgraded to reflect the code enforcement standards adopted in 2009, with regard to building, electrical and fire suppression codes, among others. Currently, Lockhart operates under 2006 codes.
ISO is a consulting organization which is largely responsible for rating communities and geographical areas to determine base insurance rates.
Under the existing 2006 codes, the City of Lockhart was at risk of its ISO rating being changed, which at least one local insurance agent suggested could result in an increase of insurance premiums upwards of 35 percent.
Construction experts varied on their assessment of what the change in codes could cost a resident building a new home. Those estimates varied from $800 – $10,000, depending on the size of the property, the nature of the project and the contractor citing the figures.
Throughout Central Texas, most cities have already upgraded to the 2009 set of codes. Many, in fact, have upgraded to the 2012 codes.
Councilmembers Richard Banks and Paul Gomez were adamant against approving any changes that would increase restrictions on building, or increase building costs for potential new-home buyers.
“We’re being used by the insurance companies to do their bidding,” Banks said. “Why can’t the residents decide, ‘I want to build my house to the 2006 standards or the 2009 standards,’ and have their insurance decided that way?”
Gomez said he also felt the City was being used to impose restrictions or determine insurance rates, and said he did not believe that homes built to the 2006 code were any more or less dangerous than homes built under the 2009 codes.
Longtime area electrician Russell Grumbles spoke to the council on the matter, suggesting that regardless of the council’s decision, builders and contractors were being forced into the more recent versions of the code regardless.
“They aren’t making the parts any more for the older codes,” he said. “We are only going to be able to get the newer parts that conform to the new codes, so you’re going to be forced into them anyway.”
Grumbles suggested the council pass the code upgrades to avoid the risk of having the ISO rating changed and insurance premiums increased for residents across the area.
Builder Robert Mendez, on the other hand, asked the council to hold off on the new codes until they “had no other choice.”
Mendez, who is currently preparing plans for a spec house in Lockhart, said the 2009 codes ran the risk of increasing construction costs on his project from $4,500-$5,000. That increase, he said, could potentially prevent a first-time homebuyer from qualifying for a loan.
Through the course of discussion on the matter, Banks became more and more adamant that the decision should be put off. He said he wanted time to talk to his insurance agent, to other contractors, and ultimately said he object to Lockhart imposing yet more restrictions on growth, and doing so on the whims of the insurance lobby.
He did not respond to the suggestion that putting off or voting down the decision could cause insurance premiums to increase for every homeowner in Lockhart.
At the end of the lively discussion, the council voted 5-2 to update the Code of Ordinances to reflect 2009 construction codes, with Banks and Gomez standing against the idea.
In brief news, the council heard presentations from the Plum Creek Watershed Partnership and the Clean Air Force of Central Texas.
They entered an intergovernmental contract with Caldwell County for the Nov. 5, 2013, election, which will choose single-member district members from Districts 1 and 2, and two at-large councilmembers. Filing for the election opens on July 27.
They heard and approved the city’s Second Quarter Investment Report, and discussed allocations for donations to several local non-profit organizations.
The Lockhart City Council routinely meets on the first and third Tuesday of each month at 7:30 p.m. in the Glosserman Conference Room at Lockhart City Hall. The meetings are open to the public and are televised on Time Warner Cable Channel 10.