July 18, 2010 in City

City elevator program in doubt

Inspection backlog has officials considering a state takeover
By The Spokesman-Review
 
By the numbers

1,133: Conveyances requiring annual inspection in the city

480: Conveyances inspected last year

$85: Current annual inspection fee

$175: Proposed fee for hydraulic elevators

$350: Proposed fee for cable elevators

City administrators are asking for help to salvage Spokane’s troubled elevator inspection program.

State regulators in recent years have questioned the effectiveness of the city’s inspections, documents show. Although the state says Spokane now is back on track, the program continues to suffer from a severe backlog.

To solve that backup, the Spokane City Council on Monday will consider a proposal to more than double the city’s inspection fees to help pay for a second inspector. City and state inspectors say the city has too many elevators for one person to inspect thoroughly each year.

But some City Council members question why the city should hold on to the program when it could simply turn inspections over to the state, which has lower rates than Spokane’s proposed fees.

“If our city cannot operate financially and viably at the rate the state charges, then we shouldn’t be in the business,” said City Councilman Bob Apple.

Building officials warn that there’s no guarantee that the state’s rates won’t soon increase too, especially because the state also has a backlog.

Under the proposal, the city would charge $175 for an annual inspection of a hydraulic elevator. Cable elevators would cost $350. That’s up from $85.

Inspections include up to two visits; additional visits would be billed at $22 each, up from $10.

Some council members argue that businesses are better served by maintaining local control over the program – so builders and managers can complete most of their permitting and inspection needs at one place.

Keeping the program “offers a better, more complete package of service,” said Councilman Jon Snyder.

In Washington, cities can maintain elevator inspections or turn them over to the state’s Department of Labor and Industries. Once the job is given to the state, the city can’t ask for the task back. Spokane and Seattle are the last cities operating their own elevator inspection programs.

Spokane’s elevator program, however, suffers from a severe backlog. State law says conveyances – elevators, escalators and dumbwaiters – should be inspected annually. But last year, the city only inspected 480 of 1,133 conveyances.

In a 2008 meeting between state and Spokane inspectors, the state expressed concerns with the quality of the city inspections and the backlog, according to documents received by The Spokesman-Review as part of a records request.

“Another inspection issue is that the inspections have not been performed to the national standard adopted by the state,” according to meeting notes made by Jack Day, the state’s chief elevator inspector. “I had the pleasure of reviewing many inspections from the recent past. It has been determined that grievous safety violations have occurred over the years and there was no indication the city had written corrections addressing these issues. The process the city has needs to be overhauled and placed into action.”

In an interview in May, Day said that since that 2008 meeting, the city has made strides to be more thorough.

“That is very encouraging to me,” Day said.

The city’s previous elevator inspector retired soon after he was injured while inspecting a downtown elevator in 2007. A new inspector recently left the job, and the city is currently inspecting elevators with a temporary employee.

City building leaders acknowledge previous inspections may not have met state standards and attribute the problems to being understaffed.

“I’ve got a good confidence that (the city is) inspecting to the state requirements,” said Building Director Joe Wizner.

City Council President Joe Shogan has said he’s not worried which government controls inspections.

“My foremost concern and obligation is to make sure that elevators stay safe,” Shogan said.


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