PORTSMOUTH — Multiple pieces of legislation were passed during Portsmouth City Council’s Monday session pertaining to an issue long facing the city.
Brought to a first reading, eight ordinances pertaining to code enforcement were amended after the three-reading rule was waived. All of the ordinances were requested to be passed out of emergency and passed with 6-0 margins. Along with fellow council members, mayor Kevin Johnson saw the action as a way to confront Portsmouth’s litter and weeds problems. These problems, in their view, take away from the beauty of the city and give residents and passersby a negative impression of its status.
“Tonight, we didn’t even miss a beat and passed eight items on this agenda,” said Johnson. “Putting these on now, our code enforcement can start enforcing these.”
Portsmouth Police Department Officer Tiffany Hedrick, teaming up with former Portsmouth City Health Department environmental director and now code enforcement officer Andy Gedeon, also supported the council’s decision.
“I think it might be more work for us, but hopefully it’ll make it easier for us to do our jobs,” said Hedrick Tuesday, serving in the role since 2017. “Now we can attack this issue and start to see some progress with it.”
With Gedeon and the amendments on her side, Hedrick said the office has come a long way since her earlier days when it essentially was non-existent. Now instead of citations, their work will have real teeth to it.
“Last year, we issued warnings for high grass,” she said. “This year, we’ll actually be able to give citations.”
Among the new abilities granted, Gedeon will have the ability to inspect dwellings with the owner’s permission or through a warrant. He will also be able to issue violation notices for those residences that are not up to code. As the prior legislation read, some of which dated back to 1975, these were previously the Health Commissioner’s responsibilities and the Board of Health. A nuisance board, comprised of the Council President, City Manager Sam Sutherland, City Solicitor John Haas, would oversee the appeals procedure.
Add-ons were placed to the city’s definitions of vacant structures and sanitation to account for its effects on public health and to expand its territory. Vacant properties must be “maintained in a clean, safe, secure and sanitary condition as provided herein so as not to cause a blighting problem, or adversely affect the public health or safety and must be secured against entry to the structure by pests or unauthorized individuals,” the amended ordinance reads.
Starting his role earlier this month, Gedeon feels the changes will stream-line code enforcement and cut a lot of the red-tape that halted its progress in the past. While misdemeanor charges can be filed for violators, second degree charges in some cases, he believes it can benefit perpetrators in the long run.
“We served a man out in Sciotoville and through our work, we were able to get him in contact with the Veterans Affairs,” he said. “I think we helped turn his life around.”
As said in previous council sessions, the most significant issue facing the office is out-of-state property owners. These owners are much more likely to violate, Gedeon, saying the latest tally to be 46-21 compared to local owners.
Hedrick said these properties are often bought up for pennies on the dollar, but the entire property’s care is often lacking. Having affairs in order means maintaining clear alleyways, removing high weeds, among other responsibilities.
“In the county, you can do whatever with your property,” she said. “But the city wants it to look a certain way.”
Reach Patrick Keck (740)-353-3501 ext. 1931, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @pkeckreporter.
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