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Portage City Hall

Portage City Hall.

PORTAGE — City officials are cracking down on contractors paying off the books, not offering insurance and using undocumented workers to save money.

The city council has approved a "minimum mandatory conditions" ordinance which will require contractors seeking building permits for commercial building projects costing $250,000 and more or residential construction projects of five units or more to meet stricter standards.

"There have been a number of projects with issues and with the repeal of the common construction wages, it limits us as to what we can do," Ron Necco, business representative of the Regional Council of Carpenters said.

Necco said the language in the new Portage ordinance is the strongest in the Region and will be submitted to other municipalities for consideration.

Clerk-Treasurer Chris Stidham said the union approached the city because of issues with a few building projects and worked with then-council president Mark Oprisko and the city attorney to draft the new language.

"The ordinance gives the building department the authority to stop work when there is illegal work being done," Stidham said.

While covered under federal and state labor laws, Stidham said the local building department had no authority to step in and enforce the laws.

The new minimum mandatory conditions address contractors who are not providing worker's compensation insurance, making cash payments to employees to avoid paying payroll taxes and employ undocumented workers.

If the contractor fails to comply with the requirements, a permit can be temporarily suspended and all construction work stopped by the city's building commissioner until the violation is remedied. Contractors could face other penalties as well. The ordinance also requires all general contractors to be responsible for other contractors performing work for them on the project.

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Porter County Reporter

Joyce has been a reporter for nearly 40 years, including 23 years with The Times. She's a native of Merrillville, but has lived in Portage for 39 years. She covers municipal and school government in Porter County.