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Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

Council passes unsafe building legislation


By William Kincaid
CELINA - New legislation will empower city officials to combat blight within the city.
City council members on Monday night passed the final reading of an ordinance that authorizes safety service director Tom Hitchcock and/or his designees to act as building inspector and deem structures dangerous or unfit and require repair or demolition. The ordinance also establishes an appeals process.
The new law will take effect 30 days after Celina Mayor Jeff Hazel signs it.
"You have to have things in place that protect people's property values in general," Hazel said this morning.
Hazel said his goal is to not only motivate people to maintain properties but to also ensure the inspection process is carried out fairly and equitably and conducted for the benefit of the majority of citizens.
"You're never going to please everybody," he said.
Hitchcock has a proven track record in carrying out such duties in Van Wert and St. Marys, Hazel added.
Hazel said he will appoint five people to an appeals board.
Structure owners will have the ability to challenge an order through a building appeals board hearing. The appeals board will have the power to sustain, modify or reverse the decision of the building inspector.
"We got to start looking for the people I'm going to appoint for that," he said.
No one from the public in attendance at the meeting spoke in favor or opposition to the ordinance.
The policy explicitly lists several defects that would constitute a dangerous and unfit structure, such as leaning or buckling walls; damage by decay, deterioration, fire, wind or other elements; and unfit conditions for habitation.
If the building inspector determines the costs of repairs to a structure would exceed 100 percent of its current value, it must be demolished. Also, if the structure has been closed or boarded-up for at least two years, it would be ordered to be demolished.
Hitchcock has said the city would be lenient with the 60-day order to repair or demolish structures if the owners are showing progress or are waiting on a contractor.
The owner will be required to pay for demolition or have a tax assessment levied against his or her property.
Hitchcock also has said the city will first go after detached garages and sheds - projects that city employees could demolish at minimal cost. The city plans to target larger structures in coming years.
Hazel previously said the policy will allow the city to address buildings that are simply unsafe, whether it be the presence of rodents or broken windows.
In other news, city auditor Betty Strawn presented a financial summary of the city, pointing out the city, as of the end of March, has collected $1.816 million or 26.9 percent of total revenue anticipated for the year.
"The percentages are pretty much in-line," she told council members.
The city has spent $1.3 million or 19.9 percent of total expenditures expected for this year.
Also, the city has collected $1.089 million in income taxes this year- $734,581.27 from the 1 percent and $354,980 from the additional half-percent for the police and fire departments approved by voters in 2010.
The city expects to bring in a total of $4.3 million in income taxes this year.
Councilwoman Angie King said the financial figures look good but attributed the healthy status to the additional half-percent income tax.
Council members need to think about reducing expenditures as the half-percent only has a seven-year life, King said.
"We need to keep in mind it's for a limited time," she said,
"Or renew the half-percent," said councilman Bill Sell, adding officials can do so by showing voters they used the money responsibly.
King said she hopes the economy improves so council members won't have to ask for a renewal of the half-percent.
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