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COLUMN: Conway ends example of wasteful spending

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Boom or bust, privatizing inspections way to go

By Ben Carlson

Column as I see ’em …

Props go to new Judge-Executive John Wayne Conway for the move he made in axing the electrical inspector’s position in favor of contracting the job out to a private contractor.

The move will save taxpayers at least $15,000 annually that was being wasted on salary and benefits during this protracted economic down turn. The inspection fees collected during the past several years didn’t come close to paying for the position, yet for some unexplained reason taxpayers were forced to continue shelling out money.

It’s a safe bet that the position has been running $15,000 in the red each of the past four years — housing and construction being what they are.

That means the fiscal court wasted $60,000 during that time on a position that could have cost taxpayers nothing.

Think that doesn’t sound too bad? Think again.

Consider that the fiscal court collects $123 on a home assessed at $100,000. That means over the course of four years it would take the tax liability of nearly 500 homes assessed at that amount to generate the $60,000 in tax revenue that was wasted.

How’s that taste?

 

Speaking of taste, I have a bad one in my mouth based on the state’s insistence that counties must either employ or contract with an electrical inspector.

After hearing of the change Conway made, I questioned the need to even enter into a contract with a private contractor at all.

I learned that nothing requires contractors or homeowners to use the designated firm for an electrical inspection, but the law does require the county to designate someone for the job.

That’s just stupid, and amounts to nothing more than the county becoming a de-facto marketing firm for the anointed inspector.

The bottom line is that whether a homeowner installs his or her own electric or has it done by a professional, the job needs to be OK’d by a state certified inspector. There are plenty around, and finding one requires one to do nothing more than read the service directory in The Anderson News.

Why force a county to choose one on which to sprinkle pixie dust, when others stand ready and able to perform the same service?

 

Speaking of tasting bad, that’s the reaction some folks expressed while discussing the electrical inspection issue.

The lion’s share of reaction I received was that contracting the job out will probably work while the building trades are in the toilet, but will fail miserably once — more likely, if — another building boom begins.

Why?

Were the need for electrical inspections to outpace the ability of those licensed to provide them, the free market would fill that void almost immediately with hungry contractors looking to make a buck.

Don’t believe me? Then ask yourself the following: If you needed an electrical inspection and needed it quickly, do you think a private contractor who gets paid only when he or she works would show up faster than a government employee who gets paid the same amount whether he or she shows up at your house today or next week?

Exactly.

And don’t even start with the argument that a government agent is more trustworthy to ensure our safety, blah, blah, blah.

Private or public, each inspector is equally certified by the state, and performs exactly the same inspection.

The real difference, should you doubters care to be honest, is that a private inspector risks his or her livelihood each time they perform an inspection.

If they mess up, their reputation is shot and finding more work will be nearly impossible.

And unless they are courteous, respectful and treat people decently, they won’t last long, either.

A government employee is also expected to perform the job correctly each time, but aside from eventually being fired, has no personal skin in the game if he or she screws up.

And, if recent local history provides a lesson, the government agent has much more latitude to have an attitude while performing the job.

Those of you who tasted that attitude through years know exactly what I mean.