Wellsville Village Discusses Inspection Plans, Eminent Domain
Industry Update: On April 23, The Review published an article titled Village committee discusses building inspection plans.
Village committee discusses building inspection plans
WELLSVILLE - With dilapidated structures a matter of increasing concern for village residents and leadership alike, Wellsville appears to be taking further steps toward the hiring of a building inspector.
At a meeting of the Claims, Rules and Ordinances Committee of village council on Monday afternoon, committee member Don Brown based his concerns on the large number of rental properties, many of which are not adequately cared for by their owners. He says it's unfair for these owners to be collecting hundreds of dollars per month in rent for apartments and houses that are deteriorating around their occupants. "It's unhealthy for the people that are living there, it's not safe, and I think we need to do something," he said.
In addition to the people who live in dilapidated buildings, village Mayor Susan Haugh, who sat in on the meeting, expressed concern about people who have them in their neighborhoods as well. "When it starts affecting the neighbors, we need to take control of this," she said. She relayed stories of the complaints she's received from people living next door to run-down houses and her dissatisfaction that the village isn't able to pursue negligent owners and landlords.
All committee members present agreed that a tightened inspection plan with a dedicated property inspector is necessary. Village fire Chief Bill Smith presently carries out cursory inspections when a problem property is identified, but does not have the proper certifications to make his findings stick in the instance of a court case. Committee chairman John Morrow also stated that Smith is too busy with his duties at the fire department, and only one other full-time firefighter on staff, to devote adequate time to the cause.
It was agreed that the costs associated with a building inspector would be paid for with proceeds from inspection fees, though such a fee structure has yet to be worked out. Also, Morrow says that time would be needed for property owners to raise their rents in order to absorb the coming inspection costs. "We can't just drop a fee on these people tomorrow," he said. If that is the case, money to initiate the office would need to be found within various village funds, which will be a matter to bring before the village Finance Committee.
The legal issues of inspections would also need to be settled. For example, Haugh asked how the inspector would determine which structures could pass with just an outside inspection and which would require a more thorough review inside. Morrow said he could imagine an inspector asking to look inside a house being met with resistance and wasn't sure how the force of law could be applied to that situation. The mayor wondered if a refusal from the owner could prompt a charge of obstruction of official business.
As with other questions, Morrow said he would need to pass the query along to village solicitor Andy Beech.
For his part, Morrow produced copies of the East Liverpool building code and inspection statutes from Youngstown for members to study for ideas.
One idea from Youngstown committee members expressed interest in was the ability to seize foreclosed and abandoned properties via eminent domain. Currently, the village must wait for such housing to go through three rounds of public auction before it is able to purchase them for payment of back taxes. "We could buy it, then sell it to someone as long as they sign something that says, 'We're going to clean this property up or tear it down,'" Morrow suggested.
Beyond the quality-of-life issues, Haugh suggested that if the situation is allowed to continue unabated, it will drive responsible, tax-paying residents out of the village. The loss of that tax revenue is something Wellsville could ill afford, she said. Brown added that new residents will not move to Wellsville if they found themselves forced to move in next to a blighted property.
"This is what we need to move the town forward," Morrow said in agreement.
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