Building codes coming to Lee County

TUPELO – Lee County officials say they likely will adopt building codes within a year and require that all new structures pass building inspections.
The plan is in its infancy, said District 1 Supervisor Phil Morgan, but it has the support of other board members and the Community Development Foundation.
Morgan told the Daily Journal on Monday that supervisors had discussed the idea for years without action. Now, he said, they’re ready to act.
“There needs to be regulations in the county,” Morgan said. “I’ve had a lot of requests for it, and the Home Builders Association has talked to us about it several times.”
Building codes are a set of standards that all new construction must meet to be deemed adequate. Several types of codes exist, but the International Building Code is considered among the best. It’s the one Tupelo uses.
Morgan said the county would charge builders a permit fee of several hundred dollars; that fee would cover the building inspector’s services. It would cost taxpayers nothing.
While Lee County has subdivision regulations for street and infrastructure, it has nothing for construction standards.
Without building codes or building inspections, the county can’t control the type or quality of structures being built within its jurisdiction.
Morgan said recent complaints about a questionable new development in his district prompted the renewed interest in building codes.
The county’s lack of building codes also surfaced during Tupelo’s annexation trial this year. City attorneys argued the proposed annexation areas would benefit from being within the city in part because Tupelo could protect them from shoddy development.
When asked whether the annexation case influenced supervisors’ interest in adopting building codes, Morgan said no, but District 2 Supervisor Bobby Smith nodded his head yes.
Smith said supervisors want to research building codes and adopt the best one but cautioned it’d take time. Morgan said it would happen within the year.
When it does occur, Lee County will be one of the first counties in the state to have building codes. While many cities have codes, only a handful of counties statewide have them, including Desoto, Rankin, Hinds and the coastal counties.
Among the benefits of such a program is the ability to track how many new structures the county gains each year. Currently, that information comes from scattered sources like E911 records and tax assessments. And no one within the county readily had that data Monday.
The Community Development Foundation used to track it but doesn’t anymore, said CDF Planning Director Jon Milstead.
Milstead said he supports the county’s plan and that it would solve a lot of problems. He also said that other agencies, like banks and homeowner insurance providers, now require building inspections, so it’s natural the county would follow suit.
“We have not pressed them to do any of it,” he said, “but we have talked to them about how building codes are a good thing.”
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.

Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal