Commissioner wants home building protection

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Columbia County Commissioner Tommy Mercer says he wants to protect those who are having a new home built in the county.

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Randall Jones (left) and Donald Hicks, of Re'zon Construction, work on a house in River Island Settlement in Martinez. Columbia County Commissioner Tommy Mercer wants to increase the amount of bond insurance required of builders.  J. Scott Trubey/Staff
J. Scott Trubey/Staff
Randall Jones (left) and Donald Hicks, of Re'zon Construction, work on a house in River Island Settlement in Martinez. Columbia County Commissioner Tommy Mercer wants to increase the amount of bond insurance required of builders.

To do so, he's calling for an increase in how much bond insurance builders need before they can work in the county.

"I think we need to do something in this county to protect the consumers from unscrupulous work," he said at a recent commission meeting. "I have a problem with people coming into the county and ripping people off and running."

Bond money reimburses a homeowner if a magistrate judge rules the work was done shoddily or not completed as contracted.

Mr. Mercer said he would like to increase the county's bond requirements of $15,000 for residential work and $20,000 for commercial to $25,000 and $50,000 respectively. The bond for subcontractors would remain unchanged at $5,000.

Scott Patterson, the vice president of the Builders Association of Metro Augusta, said his organization believes more study is needed before changes are made and that it supports the position of the county's Construction Advisory Board.

"They oppose an increase in the bond amounts because right now there's no evidence that an increase is necessary," Mr. Patterson said.

He said higher bond insurance requirements would result in increased costs passed on to consumers.

Though Mr. Mercer acknowledged the number of troublesome builders is small, the problem needs to be addressed. Most disputes appear to involve small-time operations that easily file for bankruptcy protection if they are taken to court.

"We don't have any problem with the folks that are in the builders association," he said.

The matter was tabled for 30 days at the latest commission meeting for further study of the issue.

Mr. Mercer says he wants to get the bond limits raised before the state takes over contractor licensing in January 2008 to get the regulations grandfathered in.

The state requirements will not require licenseholders to have a bond, which would make it harder for consumers to get a timely settlement if poor work occurs.

Alicia Etheridge, an information referral specialist for Georgia's Professional Licensing Boards Division, said builders who were not grandfathered in for a state license as of Jan. 3 will be required to pass a state exam before the end of this year to be licensed.

Reach Preston Sparks at (706) 868-1222, ext. 115, or preston.sparks@augustachronicle.com.

HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT CONTRACTOR


- Call your county license and permit office to verify that your contractor is registered with the county. The contractor also must have a current occupation tax, commonly called a business license.


- Find out how long the contractor has been in business.


- Obtain and check several references from former customers.


- Talk to subcontractors about the contractor's payment history. The state of Georgia might allow subcontractors and/or suppliers to file a mechanic's lien against your home to satisfy their unpaid bills. Ask the contractor, subcontractors and suppliers for a lien release or lien waiver.


- Make sure the contractor is responsible for obtaining any required permits.


- Make sure the subcontractors have a current occupation tax.


- Always get a written contract.


- Do not make final payment until all work meets the standards of your contract and that completed work has been inspected and approved by the county.


Source: Columbia County Building and Commercial Services


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