PORTSMOUTH — To boost its response to code enforcement matters in the city, CE officer Andy Gedeon and City Engineer Nathan Prosch proposed multiple changes to the department before Portsmouth City Council Monday.
In the past few weeks, Gedeon, Prosch, City Manager Sam Sutherland, and City Solicitor John Haas have been discussing what can be done to improve the department’s abilities.
“As we all know, we have been battling a big fight with code enforcement,” said Sutherland during the City Managers session that evening. “I believe we finally got something to put to writing.”
Identified as a trouble spot for the city, their proposal calls for the establishment of a code enforcement division, make additions to its staffing, bid property maintenance work and demolition to contractors, and to appropriate funds to cover these costs.
One officer- responsible for grass, weeds, and large dump sites- and one clerk would join the staff, where currently Gedeon is the only person working specifically on code enforcement.
To make up that difference, the former Portsmouth City Health Department environmental director said he has been putting in long hours and taking on multiple roles.
“I’m responsible for every parcel in the city of Portsmouth whether it’s residential or commercial,” he said. “I’m putting in over 50 hours a week since Tiffany (Hedrick) resigned at no extra cost to the city. Today, for example, I’m at 13.5 hours that I’ve put in.”
A new officer would allow Gedeon to address vacant houses in the city, where 30 houses have been identified as needed to be torn down. Demolition costs range from $8,000 to $15,000 per home, most of these homes he said being used for illegal activity.
As per the proposal, an appropriation of $150,000 for demolition and $75,000 for high grass, weeds, trash removal and board-up is the request to the council.
During the presentation, Prosch and Gedeon explained how Columbus and Lima in northwest Ohio have addressed their code enforcement needs. As the City Engineer explained, Lima created a specified list of parcels where they knew the city would have to maintain since the property owners had not been doing so themselves.
“They know that either the property owner is out-of-town, delinquent, they just flat out do not maintain their property and they know that every year,” he said of the Lima plan, which identified more than 230 parcels in the 37,000 populated-town.
From there that maintenance work- weed and grass cutting, trash removal, boarding up homes, excavation and remediation- is bid out to a contractor who then does what is requested.
To cover what is paid to these contractors, 5th Ward Councilman Edwin Martell noted that the collection of property taxes, especially from out-of-state owners, remains an issue.
“No one is paying their property tax,” he said. “So, the city is going to pay these contractors to do this and we may never recover that money back.”
Recovering those costs is a problem that Lima faces, Prosch said, and Portsmouth will likely as well due to its number of out-of-state owners. Gedeon projects that 85% of those that are not maintaining their property and paying their taxes are not local.
With it being a non-extraditable offense, enforcing payment is a challenge. Potentially facing 90 days in jail and a fine of $750 is another deterrent to progress.
“That’s just the issue we’re running into,” Gedeon said, Haas adding later that serving those outside of Ohio is a real challenge. “Unfortunately, it’s going to cost money to address the high grass and weed problem.”
Reach Patrick Keck (740)-353-3101 ext. 1931, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @pkeckreporter. © 2021 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved.