Council approves codes changes

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The Common Council explained its reasoning before voting to pass changes to the city’s electrical, building and street vendor codes in its Wednesday night meeting.

Councilors passed a wholesale rewrite of Rome’s electrical codes for the first time since 1966.

“There were so many modifications necessary,” said Councilor Kimberly A. Rogers (R-3), “that we essentially had to delete the existing code and then ... recreate the section with all new language.”

The bulk of the new code spells out qualifications for electrical inspectors and makes them accountable to the city’s Code Enforcement office. While prior code required inspectors to adhere to state-mandated safety standards, there was no requirement that the inspector be certified or even knowledegable on those standards.

“As a consumer, it can be scary, you know, you install a pool that has very high voltage and pumps and you pay someone to do the electrical work and then you have someone to do the inspection that you don’t pay, the contractor pays. And then they come and ... tell you that your pool is safe,” Rogers continued.

“We hope that’s the case, but as a consumer, it’d be nice to know that you’re being inspected by qualified individuals.”

The new electrical codes also allow Codes officers to order emergency inspections of sites that they suspect to be noncompliant.

The council also passed changes to the city’s buidling code. As it stands, the city can issue a stop-work order on building projects that are in violation of codes, that are “being conducted ... dangerous(ly),” or that are performed without a permit. The new language keeps a stop-work order in effect until the Codes Enforcement office determines that a violation was remedied, and charges the property owner or contractor an administrative fee.

Rick Hoke of Calvert Street told councilors he believed that Rome’s codes were already too restrictive, and said that property owners should be warned before stop-work orders and fees are issued against them, because it isn’t clear when a permit is needed.

“We do everything we can to try to be business-friendly, proactive, and help people navigate the code which is inherently complex,” Chief Code Enforcement Officer Mark Domenico answered.

He said that the building permit requirement is state-mandated, and that it is “incumbent on anyone that’s building anything in the city” to “be good citizens” and contact the Codes office to learn what’s legally required of them.

Domenico added that issuing and administering stop-work orders is “incredibly administratively burdensome,” and that the new fees would offset that.

Councilors also voted to streamline the city’s permit process for street vendors. Old codes allowed merchants to apply for one-day or one-year licensing, while the new legisation removes the one-day permit and spells out grounds for permit revocation.

Bobby Richardson of Floyd Avenue, who said he runs a hot dog stand, asked councilors to consider vendors who can operate seasonally. He said there should be an option to pro-rate the license, rather than pay for a year-long permit that he can only make use of for six or so months.

Councilor Cam T. Tien, D-1, asked his colleagues ahead of the vote to “keep in mind” that it’s “burdensome” for vendors like Richardson to pay for a longer, more expensive license than he needs.

Tweaks to the city’s plumbing code met approval, allowing for “Limited Residential Plumbers” to service homes, townhouses, and bed and breakfasts without having master plumber certification.

Second ward Councilor John B. Mortise, R, said that the legislation could help to lower plumbing costs for homeowners and encourage more plumbers to do business in Rome.

Also passed by the Common Council Wednesday night:

The appointment of five commissioners of deeds, a notary-like position.

Authorization of the mayor to attend various confereces during the year.

Designation of the Daily Sentinel as the city’s official newspaper and of WKAL as the city’s official broadcast station.

Authorization of two sales of city-owned properties: 700 Massena Ave. ($500); 702 Massena Ave. ($1,000).

Authorization the sale of a city-owned property at 909-911 Batavia Ave. for $7,500, and entering a rehabilitation agreement with the new owner.

Creation of a sewer district on Martin Street.

Delegating the authority to send personnel to conferences and seminars to the heads of the Public Works, Police and Fire departments.

An agreement with the state court system to perform maintenance at the Justice Building, with Rome to be reimbursed $50,100.

Acceptance of a $20,000 state grant for the Police Department to buy a total work station, an optical tool that will help reconstruct and analyze accidents and crime scenes.

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