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Budget could lead to longer waits for plan reviews

By: Dan Shaw, [email protected]//February 17, 2017//

Budget could lead to longer waits for plan reviews

By: Dan Shaw, [email protected]//February 17, 2017//

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Architects, engineers and contractors would most likely have to wait a little longer to get their plans reviewed under Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed 2017-19 budget.

The governor’s budget would give the state’s Department of Safety and Professional Services a goal of being able to start going over submitted plans within 13 days of receiving a request for review. If approved later this year as part of the state’s overall budget, the change would be up from the current goal of five days.

Bob DuPont, executive director of the Alliance for Regulatory Coordination, said he would obviously prefer to have quicker turnaround times. His group represents various fire-protection and sprinkler system contractors, which are often among the last companies to be brought onto a project. Under pressure to complete their work quickly, they can be put at risk of missing deadlines by slow plan reviews.

“Most of the people I represent don’t look at this as good news,” DuPont said. “They’d rather have the plan review availability sooner rather than later.”

At the same time, DuPont said, the governor’s budget proposal might simply be about setting a more-realistic expectation. DuPont said that no matter what goal state officials now have, the reality is that plan reviews are many times now scheduled four or five weeks out.

The time lags have gotten worse, DuPont said, as the economy has improved in recent years and construction projects have become more common.

“So perhaps five days is a little bit optimistic,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Safety and Professional Services, said answers to questions about the proposed change could be found in the governor’s budget documents. Those documents merely state that a goal of 13 days is “more realistic.”

For the construction industry, much of the talk about the governor’s budget has centered on his plans to eliminate the state’s remaining prevailing-wage laws, avoid an increase in the state’s gas tax and put about $450 million in new borrowing toward building projects. Tucked in among those big proposals have been various small ones that have also caught the attention of industry officials.

One would do away with various boards that haven’t met since Sept. 15, 2015, including ones that provide advice on trades licensing. Among them are the Automatic Fire Sprinkler System Contractors and Journeyman Council, the Building Inspector Review Board, the Contractor Certification Council, the Manufactured Housing Code Council and Plumbers Council.

In many cases, these boards’ functions will either be absorbed by the Department of Safety and Professional Services itself or, in the case of the ones dealing with housing matters, by the state’s Uniform Dwelling Code Council.

Brad Boycks, executive director of the Wisconsin Builders Association, said he supports the proposed changes. He noted that whereas the boards that are being eliminated have apparently not gotten together in nearly a year and a half, the Uniform Dwelling Code Council “has met fairly regularly.”

Not everyone is so welcoming of the proposed change, though. Jeff Beiriger, executive director of the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Wisconsin Association, said he’s concerned that the loss of the councils will mean that construction officials will no longer have influence over the licensing standards that apply to their own industries.

Beiriger said the boards are truly advisory, meaning their recommendations can simply be ignored by state officials. He said he thinks any savings from eliminating the boards will be nominal, adding that it seems arbitrary to propose eliminating the panels simply because they haven’t met within the past year and a half.

“If there were an issue we needed to talk about, certainly we would conduct and hold a meeting,” he said. “But there hasn’t been anything to talk about, so there’s been no reason to meet.”

The Plumbing Council — which provides advice on licensing requirements and not plumbing codes — found itself slightly at odds with the Walker Administration in 2014 over a proposed rule change that would let third parties outside state government write and administer examinations for trades workers who are trying to get journeyman plumber’s restricted-appliance licenses. The rule, which was adopted against the advice of the council, had Beiriger and others worried that the resulting third-party exams would water down the standards for getting into the industry.

Beiriger said he has similar concerns about a budget provision that would let anyone who completes a state-approved apprenticeship program obtain a state license without passing an exam. He said he needs to learn more about the proposal before lending it his support.

Elsewhere, the governor’s proposed budget would end the so-called lapses that for years have caused money from the DSPS to be transferred to the state’s general fund. DuPont said he has long opposed these lapses — which have ranged from between $1.5 million to $1.8 million in recent years.

DuPont said the DSPS gets much of its money from fees charged for plan reviews, licensing and similar services. He said the general expectation is that the money will be used to benefit the industry in some way.

“We’d just as soon as have the money collected and spent on the programs for which the fees were paid,” DuPont said.


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