Broken city department


Lock Haven

Under oath on May 23, 2019, the Lock Haven City codes officer testified that the city does not (1) Verify sign permit accuracy; (2) Address non-permitted signage; (3) Verify sign compliance or; (4) Take enforcement action unless there is a complaint. On Sept. 23, 2019, I relayed this testimony to the full Lock Haven City Council and three council members admitted there could be a problem while others took what I call the “ostrich approach” and buried their head in the sand.

Here is the problem in my opinion: The Code Department is so understaffed that it cannot adequately monitor compliance or inspect properties.

This is because years ago the city voted to outsource code inspections to eliminate the salary of a code inspector.

This decision doubled the cost of commercial remodeling projects in Lock Haven overnight, while shuffling applicants out of town for inspection services that had previously been available in their own City Hall.

All of this hassle and expense creates a reluctance to remodel and develop commercial properties in the city — which translates into higher residential property taxes.

And in my opinion independent inspectors and engineers are now gouging applicants.

The Code Department is understaffed. It’s broken. The city should take immediate and aggressive steps to hire its own inspector. They can pretend it’s their own idea and take all the credit.

But if they fail to change, they may soon have no choice. State Rep. Pam Snyder representing southwestern Pennsylvania recognized there could be a similar problem in her district.

She introduced House Bill No. 349 to give private homeowners and small businesses more options for code enforcement inspection services.

This bill was passed by the General Assembly and sent to the Senate for consideration. It would require municipalities to approve a private third-party agency to enforce the Uniform Construction Code. Lock Haven would be required to offer at least two entities for inspection services.

Lock Haven has one — and that’s a monopoly!

This legislation would attack the exact problem that I’ve been complaining about in this newspaper for over two years.

It would allow for more thorough and timely inspections and drive costs down.

But change comes slowly in Lock Haven. Council members are hesitant to “rock the boat,” even when they know its taking-on water.

So far as I’m concerned the new gaping hole on Bellefonte Avenue and dilapidated condition of the Fallon Hotel were directly caused by the city’s failure to inspect properties and demand code compliance from property owners who ignore the law.

These historical structures have now been demolished, or could be damaged beyond control, and eventually taken off the tax roles only to leave more vacant ground while the city spends your money on massive demolition costs!

In it’s attempt to shove the inspection process off to someone out of town at the expense of local property owners, your city negligently caused this damage to buildings and further destroyed the viability of your central business district.

The question now is simple: Will the city act, keep its head in the sand, or wait until House Bill No. 349 is passed? If history repeats itself, they’ll wait … “til the cows are out of the barn.”

It’s been a long-time established pattern.

No, as a business advisor of 45 years, I’m not impressed with our city’s management. The most recent blunder was allowing PennDOT to push them around.

The public meeting with PennDOT was laughable. Your councilmembers are afraid of the state. PennDOT only backed off the Hanna Street stop signs because of citizen pressure and not because your elected officials kicked them in their truck.

Now they’re paving the Main Street highway. In my opinion, here’s how the waste goes:

1. Main Street didn’t need paved.

2. The city had recently painted new parking lines on Main Street.

3. Within a month of that painting, the state unnecessarily ripped-up Main Street.

4. Now the parking lines need to be repainted at the city’s expense.

5. It got dumber when city police required everyone parked on Main Street move their car or it would be towed at 7 p.m. on Friday night, the busiest night of the week. They drug people out of restaurants to move their cars to disrupt business.

Lock Haven is PennDOT’s lackey.

We’ve allowed the state to turn our shopping district into a speedway.

The state does whatever it wants in your town while your elected officials sit back like whipped puppies.

It truly is “the tail wagging the dog.”

Finally, not since the 1960s have Lock Haven streets been in such a deplorable condition, in my opinion.

It is time to divert 70% of the city budget for payroll and benefits to infrastructure needs.

And your elected officials need to outsource their negotiations because they give everything away to some developers, Comcast, the state and union representatives to the point where you’re getting nothing for your money.