There is an understandable, albeit mistaken, view in the general public that the Columbia County Commission is soft on builders and developers. Equally understandable, builders know how tough the county has gotten on building codes and inspections in recent years, and believe just the opposite.
The public perception is formed mostly by anecdotal evidence. There are so many homes and businesses being built that surely the county is asleep at the switch, right?
A small example of evidence to the contrary is the push from County Commissioner Tom Mercer to make it more difficult for bad builders to do business here. It probably won't change the ingrained public perception, but it's a good start.
What's driving Mercer is a handful of complaints from home buyers who feel they've been fleeced by bad construction jobs. "I think we need to do something in this county to protect the consumers from unscrupulous work," Mercer says.
Mercer wants to increase the value of construction bonds, the insurance policies builders must purchase to pay for additional work that might be needed after a job is completed.
The proposed increase is small: from $15,000 to $20,000 for residential construction, and from $25,000 to $50,000 for commercial construction, with subcontractors still at $5,000. Keep in mind: This is basically an overall insurance policy held by the business owner; it doesn't have to be purchased for each job.
The Metro Augusta Builders Association thus far opposes Mercer's proposal to increase the bond amount, as does the county's Construction Advisory Board. Other than the extra money the bonds would cost, they contend only a very few bad apples are spoiling the business.
The additional cost is only a few hundred dollars, but they're right about the rarity of claims. Unresolved complaints - the ones that force homeowners to court to seek access to bond funds - are scarce. The county was ahead of the curve on requiring builders' licenses and higher building standards, and that effort has helped weed out shady builders.
The additional bonds are just another step. They'll give the county's home buyers more security, and they'll have the added benefit of making it more difficult for fly-by-night operators to do business here.
Mercer has already lowered the amount of the increase as a compromise, making it easier for the builders to agree. It's a reasonable price to pay for making buyers more secure, and for improving the public's perception of the construction industry.
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