As I mentioned in the last guest editorial about local government, I wanted to open the doors to City Hall and explore with you the various departments and the services they provide. The first door we’ll open is the door to the community services department.
Community services is a name that is somewhat misleading, but it is one of the departments with which most citizens will interact at some point during their residency in Sidney. Barbara Dulworth is currently the rirector of the community Services Department.
The community services department is responsible for all long and short-term physical planning functions for the city. Short-term planning involves review of all new development and the redevelopment of office, commercial, residential, and industrial projects to ensure that they meet zoning code requirements.
Activities also include the review of permits for signs (both permanent and temporary), fences and building occupancy. The department also reviews applications for variances and for the conditional use of a property. The department is also responsible for ensuring that existing development remains compliant with the zoning code.
The community services department accepts and processes zoning and subdivision (plat) applications and provides technical guidance to the Zoning Board of Appeals, the Planning Commission, and the Sidney City Council. The department is also responsible for the administration of various state and federal grant programs as well as conducting special studies including census and demographic data, and revisions to development codes.
One of the most important projects currently being undertaken by the community services department is the updating of the comprehensive plan. The comprehensive plan is the long-range planning document intended to guide growth and development of a community or region. It includes analysis of the community and recommendations for the community’s future.
Over the course of the last 14 months, the community services department has coordinated a number of public forums and an online community survey as part of the process for updating the current plan. The new plan is expected to be completed and ready for council’s approval in January 2017.
The community services department also includes building inspection and code enforcement. The building inspection division provides inspections for new construction, alterations, repairs, and additions to one-, two-, and three-family dwellings within the city. In addition to new construction, the division issues permits and performs inspections on accessory structures such as sheds, detached garages, room additions, electrical service upgrades or changes, HVAC installations, porch enclosures or overhangs, and the electrical rewiring of existing residential structures.
The code enforcement officer is responsible for the enforcement of the city’s nuisance and property maintenance ordinances. This includes ordinances dealing with issues such as trash, litter, junk motor vehicles, and the city’s exterior paint ordinance. The code enforcement department also works closely with other local inspectors including those from the fire department, building inspection, and the Sidney-Shelby County Health Department.
The community services department also oversees the local application of the Fair Housing Act. Passed by Congress in 1968, the Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental and financing of dwellings based on race, color, religion, familial status, handicap, sex or national origin. Reporting from the community service department to the Ohio Development Services Agency eventually reaches the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The City of Sidney and Shelby County have funds available for housing rehabilitation and home repair with eligibility based upon household income through the Community Housing Impact & Preservation (CHIP) program. The community services department administers this program as well as the local Paint the Town Program, both designed to help stop deterioration of properties, maintain property values, and improve the appearance of the Sidney’s neighborhoods.
Floodplain management is also coordinated by the community services department. Development in an area that is designated as a “special flood hazard area” (also known as the 100-year flood plain) is regulated to ensure that new buildings and other development is protected from flood damages.
Participation in the National Flood Insurance Program and regulation of development within the special flood hazard areas allows property owners in the city to purchase flood insurance policies and ensures that in case of major flooding, federal disaster assistance is available. Every permit for a new building, parking lot, infrastructure, or even grading and earth-moving, is first reviewed to determine whether the property is located in the special flood hazard area and, if so, complies with floodplain management regulations.
Last, and certainly not least, the community services department works closely with the Sidney-Shelby Economic Partnership (SSEP) on economic development opportunities. From grants to reinvestment areas, enterprise zones to revolving loans, the community services department is the knowledge base for the city’s economic development efforts.
This is just a snapshot of the many and varied services offered within our community services department. I invite you to explore the city’s website at www.sidneyoh.com to learn more about the community services department and their many services.
In our next article, we’ll explore another department that virtually every resident has contact — the finance department.
The writer is the mayor of Sidney.