PORTSMOUTH — A drive through Portsmouth reveals many condemned homes, some awaiting the decision of a teardown in the sum of thousands of dollars.
Many of these homes are vacant- some leaving the city or the state, retaining the property but not keeping it up which have in some instances become locations for illicit behavior.
The work of upholding ordinances that set height limits for grass and weeds, dealing with property nuisances, and more falls mostly on the shoulders of Andy Gedeon, the sole city code enforcement officer.
“I love what I do,” he said in a Wednesday interview where the PortsmouthDailyTimesparticipated in a ride-along. “But it can be frustrating dealing with all the red tape.”
Gedeon is responsible for all six of the city wards since previous code enforcement officer Tiffany Hedrick transitioned to another role with the Portsmouth Police Department. With his workload at least doubling, as a result, he and City Engineer Nathan Prosch spoke before the city council last month to request several changes.
The changes detailed during that May 24 session included adding an officer and clerk to form a separate code enforcement division. Gedeon said assistance from other city departments has been great but believes this new department will benefit the city in many ways.
“Nathan (Prosch) does a great job,” he said, also later including the help that City Manager Sam Sutherland and the Portsmouth City Health Department provide. “This will free him up to work on the roads and other infrastructure projects.”
The officer role has already been budgeted, but further funds would be needed to cover anticipated demolition and grass and weed abatement costs. A current item in the City Manager’s agenda for Monday, an extra $75,000 is requested to be appropriated to cover demolition costs and an increase of $60,000 for abatements.
The original 2021 budget set aside $75,000 in demolition and $20,000 in abatements. These requested amounts would bring the sum to $150,000 and $80,000 respectively in future budgets.
Grant funding for code enforcement is slim, Gedeon said, and this way of funding has been done successfully in other cities such as Lima in the northwestern part of the state. As part of a 50-plus page document, he and Prosch explained how Lima, the county seat of Allen County, would bid out these projects to contractors.
“We can’t tear down every vacant house,” Gedeon said, most demolition costs ranging from $8,500 to $15,000.
Out-of-state property owners also continue to be a primary issue facing code enforcement. A code enforcement report sent to the Timesthis week showed 55 cases had been reported last month alone.
Of that May report, 30 were from outside the state and mostly involved high grass and weeds or vacant structures primarily in the city’s east end.
A Pike County resident, Gedeon explained that violators outside of the city can avoid the courtrooms since these offenses are non-extraditable. Those charged can face 90 days in jail and up to $750 in fines, but the decision to serve a summons is clouded he said by the fact that they may not show.
“If they don’t show, we’re out $200 to $250,” Gedeon said.
He believes education, not charging someone within a crime, is at the heart of code enforcement. Instances of property owners permitting new ownership of a building can lead to positive change as well where a new business can setup shop.
With increased staff and investment over the next 10 years, Gedeon is confident that the department can become a strong point for the city.
Reach Patrick Keck (740)-353-3101 ext. 1931, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @pkeckreporter. © 2021 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved.