University signs agreement to reimburse Urbana for private-certified housing inspections

Urbana City Council unanimously forwarded a resolution approving an intergovernmental formal agreement between the University’s Board of Trustees and the city of Urbana regarding private-certified housing inspections at its regular meeting Monday.

The agreement will put in writing the services and costs reimbursed to the city by the University. The proposal calls for a three-year agreement, beginning with this fiscal year, and allows for a 3.5 percent annual increase with inspections to be completed by Feb. 28 each year, said John Schneider, building safety manager for Urbana.

“We have had a long-standing agreement between the University and the city,” Schneider said. “We inspect 25 buildings in West Urbana that house about 1,250 students between the months of September and November.”

The goal of the inspections are to provide safe and educationally beneficial housing for single, undergraduate students, according to the memorandum. Each building must comply with all city and public health standards including electrical, plumbing, fire safety, food sanitation and security regulations.

For the 2010-2011 fiscal year, the city received $24,360 from the University for private-certified housing inspections. Reimbursement for the 2011-2012 fiscal year will be $25,400 and is due at the end of this month, according to the memorandum.

Schneider added that the city has the staff capacity to complete the inspections, so it is not a burden to the city, but the benefit of a formal agreement will ensure consistent reimbursement.

Mayor Laurel Prussing said violations have decreased considerably since 2009 except for smoke detector violations, which have “skyrocketed”.

Schneider said this could be due to students disabling them, dead batteries or defective units. He added that this is why annual inspections are performed, and follow-up inspections are always completed within 30 days after a violation is found.

Eric Jakobsson, Ward 2, asked if the lives of residents are being endangered by only requiring battery-operated smoke detectors and not those that are wired with the house’s electricity.

“It seems wrong not to do it because the stakes are so high,” Jakobsson said. “I would like to see this put on an agenda for a future meeting to see if this would be a reasonable request.”

Schneider said most private-certified housing buildings are connected to the fire department and have sprinkler systems. He believes that there is enough coverage in the buildings without the addition of a requirement for wired smoke detectors.

However, Jakobsson said he would like to hear the Urbana Fire Department speak about this issue in the future.