WEIRTON – City officials want to change the way their code enforcement staff handles problem properties.
The current system is complaint-based: Residents unhappy with the condition of a neighbor’s property need only report it to their councilman or the code enforcement staff.
The problem with that, Ward 4 Councilman George Ash said, is that when staff goes to a particular property to investigate, often times there’s a home even more in need of work down the street or even right next door. If there’s no complaint on the books, they don’t pursue it.
“This isn’t an attack on the code office, they’ve done 90 percent of what I’ve asked them to do,” he said. “But I get calls all the time from people saying the code officer was just at my house, but my neighbor’s house is worse.”
Ash, who sponsored the resolution calling on the department to change its policy, said he was “tired of hearing complaints from one neighbor about another.” He said when his constituents call him, he documents conditions at the property in question as well as others on the block.
“Deal with it on the spot,” Ash said. “Don’t make it complaint driven.”
“In five years, this is the worst I’ve ever had about the condition of yards and properties, trash,” Ward 3 Councilman Fred Marsh said. “We need to figure out how we fix this, how do we make it more efficient than it (is). And on the other side, I can’t figure out how someone can sit on the couch smoking, watching TV … and can’t cut their grass.”
Mayor George Kondik said he planned to request a subcommittee be formed to look into what can be done to make code enforcement more effective and said it shouldn’t be construed as an attack on the code enforcement staff.
Ward 6 Councilman David Dalrymple said while he understands the frustration, council should avoid micro-managing department operations.
“I think we need to, as the mayor suggests, sit down and look (at) this,” he said. “But I would also ask that you tread lightly on micro-managing the city manager’s decisions on what departments should be doing.
“If you start micro-managing code, you might as well micro-manage all departments. I don’t think we should be doing that. We’ve got good staff, good management … I’m confident there’s a solution.”
“Nobody’s micro-managing anything,” Ash replied. “We’re just showing our dissatisfaction with the way things are being done.”
Ash said in his 18 years on council, “every summer I get to put up with phone calls, people coming to my door at 8, 9 or 10 at night screaming because they got a notice from code enforcement … where does it end? When everybody cleans up their properties or this gets fixed.”
Ward 7 Councilman Terry Weigel said the city “just (doesn’t) have the staff to go all over town and do all we’d like to.”
The resolution passed by a 4-3 vote.
In other action, council agreed to remove 10 planters from Main and West streets.
Ash had said the planters were in disrepair. “The last three or four years there’ve been nothing but weeds in them,” he said.
Utilities Director A.D. “Butch” Mastrantoni, meanwhile, told council the final permitting hurdle for the sewer upgrade has been cleared and “now we’re allowed to move forward.”
Council also was told they’ll be paying more for workers’ compensation, though they won’t know for sure how much the increase will be until City Manager Valerie Means can review a late-arriving bid from Brickstreet which, on its face, appears to be $10,000 below the quote they received from Traveller’s.
“But it’s still going to be $50,000 more than last year,” Marsh said.
Council rejected second readings of proposed ordinances that would have piggybacked city elections to state and county elections and consolidating poll sites, giving city officials the latitude to have up to three per ward.
Ash suggested it would be better to allow the county to determine its new poll site locations before addressing the changes, necessitated by the closing of elementary schools in Ward 7 and the difficulty finding suitable replacements.
“I’m not saying it’s a bad idea,” Marsh said, “but we need to wait and see how the county sets up its polling sites, their structure.”
Weigel argued that he wanted language in place allowing the city latitude in the number of poll sites in his ward.
Public hearings on those items, as well as another upping the amount the city manager can spend without seeking competitive bids, passed without comment.
Council passed the second reading of the city manager’s spending ordinance.
Council also approved resolutions authorizing contributions to the Wheeling Symphony; maintenance and support for the city’s computer system and software; revisions to the 2012-13 general fund budget; placing liens against a demolished property on Clara Street; to purchase rescue saws and a safety display for the fire department; and to install signs restricting parking within 100 feet of a bus stop at 241 Greenbrier Road while school is in session. Signs were authorized rather than painting curbs because after the 2013-14 school year, bus stops are expected to change because the new consolidated elementary school will be open.
The Northern Panhandle legislative delegation returned just over $20,000 in state funding for various community projects, including $10,000 for an office facelift and other maintenance and repairs at Starvaggi Park; $3,000 for the Penco Road water tank project; and $2,500 for the Weirton Area Museum.
On hand for the presentation were state Sens. Jack Yost and Rocky Fitzsimmons, D-Wellsburg and D-Wheeling, respectively, as well as Hancock County Dels. Randy Swartzmiller and Ron Jones, who also is the city’s Ward 1 councilman.
Members of Weir High’s track team also were applauded for bringing home state titles, while a resident of Locust Street asked the city to intervene with parking problems in his neighborhood and a 17th Street resident asked city officials to repair his street.
Council also met behind closed doors for 30 minutes to discuss a contract with Honeywell, personnel issues and union negotiations.
(Harris can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)