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City budgets for part-time property maintenance officer

LOCK HAVEN — The city is allocating $14,321 toward a part-time property maintenance officer for the Code Enforcement Office in its 2020 budget.

But it must first expand its property maintenance code to areas other than just rental inspections, City Manager Gregory Wilson said.

The city adopted chapter one of the 2003 version of International Property Maintenance Code (IPMC) which only gives the city the ability to step in when a property is getting out of hand, Wilson said.

“(Chapter one) enables the city to take care of things when they get out of control, not to address them prior to,” he said. “So right now chapter one is ‘this is an uninhabitable building that is condemned and you must demolish it.’ That’s the total strength and authority behind that office.”

There are other chapters that the city can adopt, specifically from the 2018 version of the IPMC, that can give the Code Enforcement Office more authority when it comes to combating blight and property maintenance, he continued.

“The other chapters that address things as they progress, those teeth aren’t in what we currently have, other than places like rental inspection,” he said.

Both Wilson and Building Code Official Cyndi Walker believe the city needs to look at the 2018 version and add aspects of it to the city’s own code.

“We have to see where we can strengthen what we have on the books and bring in a person who can start to put teeth behind things so that things don’t get out of control,” Wilson said.

Walker said one of the first duties of a property maintenance manager would be to do a comparison between what the city currently has on the books in terms of the 2003 code and the 2018 code.

“It would be a process, we would have to take the most recent code and do that compared to what we have for the rental inspection program which is the 2003 version of the (IPMC),” she said. “Council would have to look to see what of the changes they made in 2003 (they) would want to keep, what (they) think is antiquated and what (they) would like to have removed.”

Walker would like to work toward adopting a property maintenance program that could apply uniformly.

“It could be applied to our rental inspection program and it could be applied to the typical resident where there’s an issue,” she said. “That would give us a tool of enforcement that would not be such an arduous process that leaves us in situations like with the Town Tavern.”

The Town Tavern was one of two historic buildings that were demolished between 2018 and 2019. Both the tavern and the former Wolf’s Furniture store were purchased by the city and torn down due to the previous owner, Dave Mayes, not taking action to fix the condemned buildings.

Wilson stressed that Lock Haven is not a blighted community but these changes in the city’s inspection code could help prevent it from ever becoming one.

“Make no mistake, this is not a blighted community. If the worse things we have to complain about are some of the things we have to complain about we’re blessed,” he said.

He referenced the issue Chester, Pa. is facing with blight. The city has five acres of blighted property, he said.

“Five acres of of broken out windows, abandoned buildings, nobody lives there,” he said. “Block after block after block in Chester is completely vacant. They’re all on the county’s repository, there’s no one to tax for them, they’re just empty homes that haven’t been lived in for decades.”

Having a part-time property maintenance manager as well as updating the city’s property codes would help prevent such a future for the city, he said.

“We are not in that state but we also don’t want to let the city get to that state. Having a person who’s vigilant to some of those things, I believe, would be a benefit to our community,” he said.

Walker noted that, although a manager would help her immensely, that doesn’t mean her office hasn’t done their best to be as pro-active as they can.

“Make no mistake about it, we don’t just react to complaints. There’s a big difference between somebody complaining about an illegal sign and finding a house that’s unstructurally sound. There’s a big difference for how you prioritize your time,” she said. “When there’s one person doing it and you have a complaint about an illegal sign but you know there’s a partially collapsed garage you need to attend to, that’s what you attend to.”

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