Archive for Thursday, July 9, 2009

Council hears about audit, code enforcement

July 9, 2009

Baldwin City Council members heard a glowing report on the city’s recently completed audit and also heard a report from Tina Rakes on code enforcement at Monday’s routine meeting.

Audrey Oderman of Lowenthal, Singleton, Webb and Wilson, the city’s auditing firm, told the council there were no problems with the audit and that the city received the “highest level” possible for the report.

“It was a great job by (City Clerk) Darcy (Higgins) and her staff and (City Administrator) Jeff Dingman for what they do every day,” said Oderman.

Rakes, director of zoning and code enforcement, was asked to report on how the department handles problems with weeds, junked motor vehicles on private property and dangerous and unfit structures. The most frequent problems are property owners who allow grass and weeds to grow higher than 12 inches. Like with the other problem areas, a period of letter writing and attempts to contact the owners takes place. She was asked how prevalent the weed situation is.

“I think at the beginning of the growing season, it’s pretty intense,” said Rakes. “We sent 17 letters out and then we had to send out five more. I think we had to send the tractor (to mow them) five times.”

As with the other problems, costs associated with the procedure are assessed to the owner.

She said the situation with junked vehicles is different because it may be a situation where the vehicle isn’t being moved, but the owner is working to repair it. The vehicles aren’t always easy to spot, either.

“We do encourage people to call us, be our eyes and ears,” said Rakes, adding that unlike the weed situation, a judge can fine someone for junked vehicles up to $100 per day and/or up to 30 days in jail. “Sometimes that does give people incentive.”

Mayor Ken Wagner, who had requested the report, asked how many vehicles fall into the category.

“I don’t know if 30 is fair. I don’t know,” said Rakes. “You’d be surprised by how many are out there.”

She also said the situation with dangerous and unfit structures goes to an even higher level, especially with trying to locate owners of abandoned property. Attempts to contact agents and lienholders of the property also takes time.

“You’re dealing with a much larger problem,” she said. “There is definite due diligence to follow in this process.”

Wagner thanked her for the report and suggested that the health and public safety committee discuss the enforcement at its next few meetings. He wants a plan in place for stricter enforcement, but also likes how Rakes is handling contact with owners in all three situations.

“If you communicate with people, good things happen,” said Wagner. “If you don’t communicate with people, bad things happen. I think we’re seeing some deterioration of some property. Maybe that’s partly because of the economy. Do we start with the understanding we can’t tackle all of the problems right away?

“We owe it to the taxpayers to do this, the ones who do the right thing and take care of their property,” he said. “I think it’s starting to be a problem.”

The council also heard a report from the safety committee, whose recommendation is not to change the speed limit in FireTree Estates or along Seventh Street from 30 mph to 20 mph.

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