Council looking to rid city of vacant properties

By Sheryl Roadcap -

SIDNEY —Sidney City Council is working to rid Sidney of the city’s problem of abandoned and vacant properties around town.

During council’s workshop session Monday, council discussed developing a residential rental and/or a vacant properties registration program within the city. After a presentation on both program options, council directed Sidney Community Services Director Barbara Dulworth to explore tackling the vacant property registration first.

Dulworth said primary goals of the vacant property registration would be to ensure unoccupied buildings are maintained to meet minimum health and safety requirements and ensure they are secured. It also aims to encourage the transfer or use of vacant buildings, via an escalating fee.

Property listing, contact person, and the encouragement of owners to sell vacant properties were some of the pros Dulworth pointed out. However, she also noted cons, such as, how do you define “vacant?” The registration of foreclosures/bankruptcies caught in limbo may pose an issue, and the registry could be used by unauthorized scrappers. Also, in light of the city’s recent loss of revenue, budget cuts are necessary, but the addition of roughly 2,827 staffing hours would be required for program implementation.

Dulworth said residential rental registration’s primary goals are to ensure a minimum health and safety standards and to stop the deterioration and deferred property maintenance.

She said the city will need to clearly define a rental property unit. Many units do not fall into the traditional rental category, such as if a person owns a duplex, lives in one units and their adult child lives in the other.

Pros, she said, include eliminating rental units with health and safety risks and provide landlord/property manager information. Cons may be that very low income households could become homeless. The rental registration could prompt objections from local landlords and would not address vacant properties. Also, this type of registry would likely require double the amount of staffing hours of the vacant property registration.

One of the other concerning issues enforcing the rental registration, Dulworth said, may be the city’s ability to inspect rentals for health and safety risks. She said other communities have struggled with whether the city has the right to conduct inspections or not because it could be considered a search without a warrant.

Council member Ed Hamaker questioned why good landlords would be charged a fee. He also asked how and why landlords who can’t afford to fix issues would pay the registration fee instead of being able to apply that money toward fixing their properties. Dulworth, who sought Law Director Jeffrey Amick’s confirmation, said the city must apply equal requirements to all property owners.

After some discussion, consensus among council was a difference could made more easily by addressing one program at a time and specifically, the vacant property problem first.

City Manager Mark Cundiff said he felt both program registries would be a good thing, but progress on vacant properties may be easier to accomplish, especially with the amount of staffing hours necessary.

Mayor Mike Barhorst noted they would be able to do some things with some of the vacant properties fairly quickly given available land bank funds.

Vice Mayor Mardie Milligan said, “… (addressing vacant properties) does seem to serve the public good — safety, health, all sort of things — because as these properties sit there and they decay, it’s awful, and a danger, and not good for the community and the people who live here … “

Dulworth plans investigate consultant costs and update council further about developing the vacant properties program at a future council meeting.

Also during the meeting, Sidney Code Enforcement Officer Kirby King presented council with a review of property maintenance regulations for years 2014 through 2016.

King reported the amount of permits given and violations were much greater in the last two years than in 2014. The vast majority of violations deal with property maintenance and were mostly corrected by property owners, rather than the city.

Also, property maintenance/zoning inspections greatly increased to 2027 in 2015 and 3175 in 2016 from 1807 in 2014. The city conducted 10-15 a day, which includes time in the field verifying and documenting violations and fees.

Thus far in 2017 since the new weed ordinance went into effect on March 1, King said there has been 50 violations and the city’s contractor has mowed 10 lawns. The violations are mostly due to the new maximum length of grass height allowed of no more than 8 inches.

King said to date in 2017, 41 junk abatements have been completed, costing the city $9,613.50. He said of the four properties in violation, two are condemned.

In other business, Council member Darryl Thurber said he thinks council may need to take another look at the current dog ordinances. He told council he was recently made aware of resident who was mauled by two loose Pit Bulls.

Amick asked Thurber what he specifically had in mind to change. He said the city already has the tools and laws in place to deal with animals running loose or to even prohibit certain types of dogs if they choose to do so.

Thurber said he will investigate the case further and will return with questions, if necessary.

Dulworth announced there were no cases for review for an upcoming Zoning Board/Planning Commission Agenda for Monday, May 15, 2017. As a result, scheduled meetings are canceled. City Manager Mark Cundiff also reviewed the prospective City Council Agenda items for the next 30 days.

In addition, council held an executive session to consider the purchase of property for public purposes and for pending or imminent court action. No action was taken by council after the executive session.

By Sheryl Roadcap

Reach the writer at 937-538-4823.

Reach the writer at 937-538-4823.