Thursday, July 23, 2015

Research Q of the Week: When to Use an Engineer (7/23/15)

Question: How much does the law say a project must be estimated to cost before a city is required to use an engineer?

Answer: We get this question from time to time, so let’s construct an answer to this frequently asked question.

Under state law, whether an engineer is used is not determined by the dollar value of a project. There used to be a $100,000 cost threshold, but that is long gone. Now there are simply a number of functions that statute and rules say require using an engineer.

State law requires that anyone who offers to provide the following services must be a licensed engineer:

[A]ny technical professional service, such as planning, design or observation of construction for the purpose of assuring compliance with specifications and design, in connection with any public or private structures, buildings, utilities, machines, equipment, processes, works, or projects wherein the public welfare or the safeguarding of life, health, or property is concerned or involved, when such professional service requires the application of the principles of mathematics and the physical and applied engineering sciences, acquired by education or training, and by experience.

State rule further states any plans or specs for erection, enlargement, alteration or remodeling, or renovation of any building structure or other work needs to be prepared and certified by a licensed architect or engineer.

There are exceptions to the engineer requirement, but the most interesting exemption is for elected officials. The exemption is for any elected official, when in discharging the duties of the office, who is required to do work or perform service of the character of work usually done by an engineer. So while a council member shouldn’t go opening an engineering firm on the basis of winning an election alone, they can at least safely approve decisions made by the city engineer.

More information can be found on page 31 of Chapter 23 of the Handbook for MN Cities.

Written by Edward Cadman, special counsel with the League of Minnesota Cities. Contact: or (651) 281-1229.

This blog post conveys general information. It’s not legal advice. Please check with your city attorney before acting on this information. 

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