Group addresses pool issue with SNHD commissioners

First, I would like to thank all of the people who came to the Southern Nevada Health District last week. We had a rough start that morning but accomplished much in communicating issues and concerns about the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act, which went into effect Dec. 18, 2008. The new law essentially demands that pools and spas be refitted with new SVRS pumps and anti-entrapment drain systems.

We had just over 100 people waiting outside the District’s front door prior to 8 a.m. Unfortunately, there was some misunderstanding involving a security guard, who would allow only one person at a time to enter into the building. Things got worse as we realized there was limited seating. We (the crowd) suspected that many members of the audience were staffers taking up valuable seats.

To make matters worse, when we complained to guard, he told us the pool issue was not on the agenda and that we should all go home. Many did go home, but about 30 of us — a group of determined citizens, pool contractors and community and property managers — stayed to bring our concerns to the SNHD commissioners during the open forum portion of the public meeting. It is unfortunate that those members of the public who wanted to participate in the process were not allowed to do so.

One pool contractor told commissioners that he had been waiting for more than four months for his permits to be approved. A property management company staffer reported that his firm had completed remodeling community pools to be in compliance with the act and had to wait months before SNHD reinspected their communities so they could reopen the pools in time for the scorching summer. It should be noted that SNHD is not charged with policing this federal law. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has that job. However, the District is involved in the process through permits and educating the public with what is expected of them to become compliant with the new law that was passed to safeguard the public after many children and adults were drowned in pools when drain suction held them captive.

In the end we had three major recommendations for the commission.

First, the permit application process had to be expedited.

Second, once the installation of the remodeling had been completed, the pools and spas should be allowed to be reopened prior to a SNHD inspection. It was suggested that the inspections be incorporated into the agency’s normal yearly spring schedule.

Third, there is a great need for better cooperation and communication between the members of the public, pool contractors and community and property managers with the SNHD staff. We let the commissioners know that the staff had ample opportunity to help inform the public of the act. We also felt the staff should have better prepared communities for the additional expense it would take to comply with the new law. Communities should have begun budgeting for this last year. One woman who attended the meeting said her community will not have the funds to make their pools in compliance with the law, which carries a hefty federal fine.

Even though the federal government through the CPSC had not established compliance procedures last year, the SNHD could have developed the administrative policies as to processing thousands of pools and spas in Southern Nevada, thus eliminating much of the delays and the confusion.

The commissioners were most attentive, took notes, summarized our positions and then directed the staff to sit with us after the meeting to begin the necessary dialogue to resolve the issues noted during the public comment.

Here is what came out of that meeting:

SNHD has developed a system to expedite the process of minor remodels such as the installation of SVRS (the pumps) and of the anti-entrapment drain covers. The contractor as well as the consumer will be able to sign a certification waiver, which basically states the property has been brought into compliance with the new federal law. Along with the waiver is a permit fee and application. Once the SNHD staff has reviewed and signed off on the plan and application, communities can open their pools and spas once the work has been completed.

Major remodels such as splitting the main drains still will have to go through the normal procedures and will not be part of the expedited process. This will require a reinspection before pools and spas can be open.

If you signed the waiver and open your pools or spas and the SNHD inspection finds illegal remodels, you will be fined twice the normal amount.

The SNHD has stated that it could take them between one to two years before it can get to final inspections for minor remodels.

I’d like to include a consumer warning here. If your pool has had an illegal filter (or something else totally unrelated to the compliance issue) and that issue was never been noticed in previous SNHD inspections, you still could stand to get a double fine. So if you sign that waiver and open your swimming areas, you better make sure everything is in order.

This issue will be addressed again in the next commissioners’ meeting. Associations and managers are not pool experts and should not be held accountable if a pool contractor installed some illegal remodels. Indeed, if the SNHD’s own staff inspectors did not site the community during previous visits, the communities should not be so harshly penalized, especially now in these economic hard times.

We realize SNHD has always had to battle illegal remodels and it is in everyone’s best interest to have proper installation of pool equipment. The SNHD is trying to clean up all of the incorrect installations the commercial pool industry has created for them over the past 20 years and this is the perfect time. But double fining association communities and apartment properties is not the answer.

For those communities who have already complied with the act and those communities that have permits in the works, remember there is a possibility that CPSC may add new requirements.

During last week’s meeting with SNHD staffers, it was unclear if more permits fees would follow. I believe this will be an ongoing issue for some time.

Again thanks for all who came, and even if you were not one of the 30 individuals who made it to the chambers, everyone was noted in the records by SNHD Commissioner and Chris Giunchigliani, who is also a Clark County Commissioner. We thank her for her recognition.

NOTE: A bit of industry news. The Nevada Association of Community Managers will hold a trade expo April 17 at the JW Marriott in Summerlin. For more information, call Sharon Brenner at 539-1606.

Barbara Holland, certified property manager, broker and supervisory certified association manager, is president and owner of H&L Realty and Management Co. Questions may be sent to Association Q.&A., P.O. Box 7440, Las Vegas, NV 89125. Her fax number is 385-3759, or she can be reached by e-mail at support@hlrealty.com.

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