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Nuisance process hastened

Thursday, August 28, 2014

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Martinsville officials have reduced by more than half the amount of time it takes them to probe and resolve property upkeep issues such as high grass and inoperative vehicles.

As part of streamlining efforts to handle property nuisance issues, violation notices now are immediately posted on doors of offending properties instead of the city mailing letters to property owners and waiting for responses, said city Fire Marshal/Building Official Ted Anderson.

Such violations also include problems such as old furniture and appliances being kept outside.

The average length of time for violations to be resolved has dropped from four to six weeks to about two weeks and, for the first time in four years, there is no backlog of complaints awaiting investigation, Anderson said.

For the most part, he said, “we’re not getting calls (anymore) asking why we haven’t responded to complaints.”

A report discussed during Tuesday night’s Martinsville City Council meeting showed the number of inspections of reported nuisance ordinance violations has increased from 258 for all of last year to 324 so far this year. Anderson attributed the spike to chance.

Investigating violations usually involves inspecting properties twice before violations are rectified. Therefore, the number of complaints of violations is about half of the inspections totals, Anderson said — roughly 129 last year and 162 so far this year.

Upon seeing a violation, a city inspector will attach a notice of the violation to the door of the main structure on the property. It is a legal declaration to correct the violation before a reinspection occurs, likely within three to five days.

If the reinspection reveals that a violation remains, the inspector has power to, for example, call a tow truck to remove a vehicle or a landscaping crew to mow high grass.

After the violation is eliminated, the property owner will get a bill from the city for $225 or the actual cost of remedying the concern, whichever is more.

“We don’t want to get into the business” of doing tasks such as yard work to resolve nuisance ordinance violations, Anderson said Wednesday.

“It’s definitely in the property owners’ best interest to take care of it themselves” because it will be cheaper for them, he said.

Traditionally, the city has found out about nuisance ordinance violations through residents’ complaints.

Its inspections and code enforcement department has three employees whose duties include inspections. Yet there are not enough employees to assign someone to ride around looking for violations, officials have said.

About a dozen city employees outside the inspections department, such as police officers and utility meter readers, recently have been trained to be on the lookout for nuisance ordinance violations as they travel the city.

However, Anderson said most of those workers have been so preoccupied with their regular duties that they could not spend much time searching for violations.

More than 90 percent of ordinance violation complaints still come from the public, said Deputy Fire Marshal/Property Maintenance Official Andy Powers.

Anderson told the council that he thinks other localities will be looking to emulate Martinsville’s streamlined nuisance ordinance abatement process.

Not mailing notices to violators has saved the city as much as $1,000 on paper, postage and other related costs, he said Wednesday.

But “the biggest thing we’ve saved is time” in correcting violations, he added.

 

 
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