Several reforms in the policies and procedures of the city's plumbing board will be implemented following the Batavia City Council meeting Monday, where no council members raised any major objection to the plan.
After the meeting, City Manager Jason Molino said the next step is for he and his staff to meet with the plumbing board -- which currently consists of one master plumber and two city staff members -- and work out a plan for implementing the reforms.
The reforms include ensuring state laws regarding open meetings and public records be followed, that better records be kept and filed on applicants for plumbing licenses, and that a third-party company be found to fairly and unbiasedly administer plumbing exams.
The city must also continue looking for a new part-time inspector of plumbing -- a job candidate who can also share code enforcement duties.
If no such candidate can be found, then the city will need to have one of its current code enforcement officers be certified to perform plumbing inspections.
Councilman Bob Bialkowski said that's the one part of the plan that makes him the most uncomfortable. He would much rather have an experienced plumber performing inspection duties.
Three plumbers and the city's former plumbing inspector, Barb Toal, spoke during the public comments portion of the meeting, well before the city manager's report came up for council discussion.
The plumbers made general statements about the importance of plumbing regulation with regard to public health. Toal spoke more to the point of the report, questioning its accuracy on meeting notices and minutes and how exams were administered.
Toal's speech was delivered rapidly and was somewhat disjointed. She seemed to blame the lack of minutes and the fact no tests were administered for some period of time on the fact that the board has not been able to operate as a full, five-member board.
The city has traditionally found it difficult to meet state requirements to have a journeyman plumber on the board.
"There has not been a full plumbing board for a full year, so therefore there have been no meetings, no minutes and no business conducted,” Toal said.
Later in the meeting, council members discussed the fact that the board only needs three members present to conduct business.
Toal also criticized the report for claiming that meetings were not advertised with proper public notice in accordance with state law.
"Planning board meetings for last four years are on the third Wednesday of every month," Toal said. "What a surprise? How is the meeting not legal? How does management not know what’s going on?"
As for not administering tests, Toal said applicants were told that without a full board, the board couldn't write a test for them to take. She said they all understood the situation.
One of the speakers wasn't a plumber, but a customer of plumbers.
City resident Paul Passamonte discussed his own difficulty in finding a locally licensed plumber at a reasonable cost. It's the same topic Passamonte covered in a letter to the city last week.
Passamonte wrote that after hiring a contractor from Buffalo for a room addition, the same contractor offered a bid for the plumbing work. He said it would cost $3,200, but the contractor wasn't licensed in Batavia.
After obtaining the list of 31 licensed plumbers for Batavia, Passamonte said a surprising number didn't even live in Genesee County, and the ones who did usually didn't return his calls. Only four ever acknowledged his calls and only two showed up and gave bid estimates -- one for $5,200 and the other for more than $12,000.
When the plumbing report came up on the council agenda for council discussion, Councilwoman Rosemary Christian had her hand up first.
She wanted to know why, if the board had been meeting for more than a decade without proper meeting notices and minutes, why that problem wasn't caught earlier.
City Manager Jason Molino said that part of the issue is that the board wasn't being required to file their documents with the city clerk's office. The board was only dealing with the plumbing office, so there wasn't any additional oversight.
"I can’t give you an answer for why this has gone on for a period of time, but we’ve identified it and now we need to correct it," Molino said.
Councilman Bill Cox suggested that when a person files an application to take a plumbing test, the application should be logged in the city clerk's office and the applicant should receive a formal letter of acknowledgment in a timely manner. The rest of the council concurred.
That was the one additional reform added to the city manager's proposal.
Council President Marianne Clattenburg praised the report as thorough, well documented and factual.
"It's not emotional," she said.
"I think we also have to keep in mind what the plumbing board is all about and how it benefits the city when we have a fully functional, fair plumbing board and a competent plumbing inspector," Clattenburg added. "It is ultimately about serving the citizens of the community. It really isn’t about serving one interest."
After the meeting, Molino said the reforms should make a big difference in how plumbing business is conducted in the city.
"The recommendations, I don’t think are monumental, but in terms of significant change, they’re important," Molino said.
Photos: Christian, Molino and Bialkowski.