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Kootenai County commissioner candidates differ on building code opt-out

The candidates for Kootenai County Commission district 3 in the November 2018 election, Republican Leslie Duncan and Democrat Ruben Miranda. (Courtesy photos)
The candidates for Kootenai County Commission district 3 in the November 2018 election, Republican Leslie Duncan and Democrat Ruben Miranda. (Courtesy photos)
By Rachel Sun For The Spokesman-Review

A Kootenai County Commission decision earlier this year to allow builders of new homes or duplexes to opt out of the county building code remains a top issue in the only competitive commissioner race on the ballot next week.

Two county commissioners who voted for the deregulations were ousted in the primary.

Commissioners Bob Bingham and Marc Eberlein lost re-election bids in the May primary after voting in favor of a building code opt-out for single-family and duplex homes.

In Tuesday’s race for Kootenai County Commission District 3, Republican Leslie Duncan and Democrat Ruben Miranda have different views on whether the county should reverse its building code decision.

Duncan said one of her primary goals is to address what she considers an “overly bureaucratic” government, overtaxing, unnecessary spending and building regulations she finds excessive.

Some critics of the commission’s building code decision, including Miranda, have said they fear deregulation could make banks hesitant to give loans to homeowners and insurance companies less likely to cover properties. Miranda listed the changed policy for building codes as a major reason he decided to run for office.

The convenience might seem favorable, Miranda said, but he’s concerned with the long-term implications.

“Building codes are necessary and helpful,” he said. “It’s kind of like the guy that had his girlfriend’s name tattooed across his forehead. It sounded like a good idea at the time.”

Many of the issues the community had with building codes were more related to the inconvenience than the rules themselves, he said, and there might be other ways to address those concerns.

But Duncan said she doesn’t think the change will degrade the quality of the infrastructure. She also thinks private inspectors could help “reduce the burden” of the process for obtaining permits, she said.

Some residents have said they would like the option of hiring a private inspector instead of a county one, said David Callahan, community development director for Kootenai County. But the code change doesn’t address that.

“There’s a notion out there that the county ought to allow private inspectors,” he said. “This opt-out program doesn’t cover that.”

Regardless, hiring private inspectors could actually increase overall costs, Callahan said.

“To have an inspector in the field is roughly three times as expensive as one of my guys,” he said. “There’s travel, lodging, you get the idea.”

Duncan also said she wants to push for lower taxes and small government. She is opposed to using federal funding in most cases, and said she wants to see her county running without it.

“There are certain instances like with the airport where we do need to take federal funds,” she said. “(Otherwise), they always come with strings attached.”

Miranda said a major issue he would like to address in the county is wage parity, particularly for sheriff’s deputies.

“Because we pay so much less than surrounding jurisdictions they end up moving,” he said. “I can’t blame ’em.”

Asking deputies and their families to take the same risks with less pay is unfair, he said.

“You cannot ask their family to live with the same risk that mommy or daddy will not come home for so much less than other jurisdictions,” he said.

He also discussed a need to change the “political divisiveness” he’s noticed in the past few years.

“I’m a firm believer that we need to come together and leave our ideologies at the door,” he said. “I will not ever make a decision based on my ideology, or my beliefs or any ideology. I make my decisions based on facts, on the science, on common sense.”

Although the commissioner race is partisan, Miranda said he’s able to work with people regardless of their political affiliation.

“I can get along with anybody,” he said. “I can usually get them to at least consider new ideas. If you consider new ideas, you’re halfway there.”

Both candidates said they wanted to address the county’s growing population.

Miranda said growth is a positive and good for business but also requires policymakers to be cognizant of environmental impacts.

“It’s a wonderful thing for our economy,” he said. “(But it) brings along with it other problems that are going to have to be dealt with.”

Duncan wants to help the community deal with its growth as well, she said, and is concerned that overpopulation and overtaxation will negatively impact the county.

“I really love the community, and I don’t want to see it change,” she said. “I want to see it stay cohesive and a place of beauty, and a place that people want to live.”

As of Oct. 10, Duncan had raised $4,577 and Miranda had raised $7,273.

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