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July 23--TUPELO -- Lee County property owners planning to build new houses or other structures soon may see an unfamiliar face -- an inspector.
Many counties throughout the state require only a licensed contractor for construction of new residential or commercial structures. County governments will vote this year to decide whether to adopt a building code meeting minimum standards in a new law recently signed by Gov. Phil Bryant.
The decision focuses on local governments, including municipalities, without building codes or those below standards of Mississippi Building Codes Council's versions of the International Building Code, International Residential Code or other codes including electrical, plumbing, fire and fuel gas.
Most of Mississippi's 82 counties and 298 municipalities do not meet the new law's standards. Tupelo does meet the standards; Lee County does not.
Five counties on the Coast have building codes exceeding the law's standards, approved after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Some Mississippi cities with relatively higher populations already meet the standards.
"There's no doubt we need a building code in the county," said District 2 Supervisor Bobby Smith. "We have a situation right now where a house is built on top of a water line and a sewer line."
Board President Darrell Rankin also supports approving a building codes but needs answers to important questions before he'll approve a specific code for the county.
"If we do this, how will we decide to do the inspections and how will we pay for it?" he said.
Rankin and all supervisors in counties choosing to approve the building code have plenty of time to agree on regulations. The new law does not set a deadline for counties or municipalities to establish the building codes. It also does not levy a penalty for not adopting it. Local governments have until late November to decide.
One approach to bring costs down for building inspections is counties can pool resources together. Randy Kelly, executive director of Three Rivers Planning and Development District, has reached out to Lee and the seven other counties included in the private, nonprofit organization.
"Three Rivers offered to be a partner in putting together shared inspectors and code enforcement if enough counties adopted it and wanted to participate," he said.
State Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney, a Tupelo native, visited the area recently and said some areas in the county impacted by the April 28 tornado could have sustained the storm if built to a higher standard.
"I'm a big believer in codes," he said. "They save lives and property and a byproduct is you have a better insurance rate."
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