City’s appearance draws complaints
By Caitlin Davis, Senior Staff Writer
Apr 2, 2013, 10:57
After two town hall meetings in March, the message from residents in the city is that Hopewell’s appearance has deteriorated. March Altman, assistant city manager for development, has begun to take a look at the ordinances in the city. Altman has heard the message and has begun to work to see what can be done.
At the town hall meeting held on March 21, residents gathered in the auditorium at Hopewell High School to share their concerns and their ideas for the future of the city. It was apparent residents wanted their city to be cleaned up.
Mary Frances Pito said she has lived in the city all her life and even worked for 45 years for the city, and said it was a “wonderful time.” However, she said over the years, the city has now become a dumping ground for trash.
“People just bring junk home and leave it wherever it falls,” Pito said. “Nobody takes pride, a few people do, in their lawns and in their house, and it just ruins the rest of us who try to keep our property neat and clean.”
Altman told council at a work session on Tuesday night, that he, along with City Attorney David Fratarcangelo, have taken a look at state legislation, as well as state and city codes, to see what can be changed as far as city ordinances.
“For example, with the inoperable vehicle and enabling legislation, in the state code we don’t have to have the provision that allows you to have a car cover,” Altman said. “We can eliminate that piece.” He said that it can put in the city code to have the inoperable vehicle in an enclosed building, essentially screened from public view.
Another change that is being considered is having the civil penalties and fees increased for people who have multiple violations, such as having tall grass. A homeowner is not in violation of a tall grass violation until the grass is over 12 inches tall.
If a resident is severed with an 18-1 code violation for tall grass, they have 10 days to cut the grass. If those 10 days pass, a contractor could be called to cut the grass. If that happens, a bill for the grass cutting is sent to the residents. If the resident does not pay the bill, a lien is put on the property.
“For cutting your grass five or six times, should that fee increase each time we cut the grass in addition to what we pay the contractor?” Altman asked council on Tuesday night. “But I think with some property owners we are in the business of cutting their grass all summer long.”
Last year by June 1, 2012, Altman’s office had done 1,644 18-1 inspections, which includes weeds/grass and trash/debris. Of those inspections, 271 resulted in citations.
“We have done as many as 206 calls in a week,” Altman said in June.
Altman also told council on Tuesday night that he wants to also begin to look at other communities comparable to Hopewell to see what is being done and what could be adopted in the city.
He said that he would like to start a partnership with the police department to begin taking care of some of these growing concerns in the city.
“We see the need for an officer to work with the blight that is in the city,” Keohane said in June.
Keohane said during neighborhood watch meetings he tends to hear more complaints about code enforcement than he does about crime.
“When you gauge complaints you hear from citizens, code enforcement seems to be one of the major issues in the city,” Keohane said in June in regards to partnering with code enforcement.
Another suggestion from Altman was to set up some neighborhood improvement grants to help with improving the appearance in the city. He said he was also working closely with Keep Hopewell Beautiful on cleaning up the city.
“I have been working with them to develop some program to bring forth to help with the cleaning effort,” Altman said. “Just getting more players involved and more people out in the neighborhoods now.”
Councilor Wayne Walton said he feels the pain of residents who call in complaints to code enforcement about yards not being cleaned up or cars not being covered.
“And my problem and everybody’s problem is that it seems in which the speed in which things get done, and I’ve been working on one for two years. It is ridiculous that two years later the yard is still the same as two years ago,” Walton said.
Walton said he has heard one message from residents in the city.
“I heard it loud and clear from the citizens. It’s a dirty little town and we need to clean it up,” Walton said.
Another concern for residents in the city, based on the two town hall meetings, was that rental properties seemed to have a large amount of debris. Councilor Jackie Shornak said she wanted to make sure the rental inspection program was in full swing.
“That program in fact will help us kind of move forward and make them [landlords] accountable for the disarray of their properties,” Shornak said.
Mayor Mike Bujakowski said when he hears from residents, code enforcement complaints “far outweigh everything else combined.”
He told Altman the determination needed to be made whether the issues within code enforcement were related to legislation or whether it was related to personnel issues.
Bujakowski said he has heard from residents that those working in code enforcement are not customer-oriented.
“It’s a tough job,” Bujakowski said, recognizing the problems the department faces. “Telling someone to undo something they’ve done or do something they haven’t done or need to do and there’s a way to do it and a way not to.”
Altman told council Tuesday night that he and members of his department are ready to make changes and move forward.
“We’re willing and we’re ready,” Altman said, telling council members to make sure to bring all issues in the city to him as soon as possible. “We’re dedicated to improving the community. Even though some inspectors don’t live here, they are invested in the community. They want to do the best for Hopewell.”