02/26/04 — City proposes more cleanup employees

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City proposes more cleanup employees

By Barbara Arntsen
Published in News on February 26, 2004 1:59 PM

WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH -- A proposal from Goldsboro's city manager to hire three additional code enforcement officers to clean up the city wasn't denied by the council Wednesday, but members said they needed more information.

"We can talk later about adding more people," said Councilman Chuck Allen, "but I want to know first what everyone's responsibility is for what they're doing now."

Mayor Al King, Councilmen Bob Waller, Charles Williams and Allen have brought up problems about the city's appearance over the past year, and now the city seems poised to address those problems.

City Manager Richard Slozak said the primary focus of the code enforcement officers would be to handle junked or abandoned vehicles, illegal dump sites, unsightly lots, items being put at the curb that violate the ordinance, and the removal of trash and recycling containers.

Last year there were 707 junked or abandoned vehicles identified, he said, and 276 were towed by the city. The rest were taken care of by the owners.

Currently, the city's two code enforcement officers also spend up to two hours a day at the courthouse, Slozak said, researching deeds and titles.

Allen said the city should keep the code enforcement officers on the street and send someone from a city office to do the research.

Slozak said the city had focused on the issues the council dictated.

"It's unfair to criticize something that hasn't been a priority in the past," Slozak said. "We're shifting gears now."

Allen said he thought the city had made some progress over the past two years regarding dilapidated houses and some other appearance concerns. "But we need a better system of communication between departments, and we need to make our stuff look better," he said.

Waller agreed.

"The city needs to edge its property and be an example," said Waller.

Slozak said the number of employees would need to be doubled because two code enforcement officers couldn't handle the level of cleanliness the council expected. He recommended hiring three additional code enforcement officers at a salary of $32,100 each. They would report directly to the assistant to the city manager, a position that is currently vacant.

The city would be divided in four quadrants, with each officer responsible for all appearance violations within their quadrant of the city.

The fifth code enforcement officer would be placed in the Planning Department, to enforce the sign ordinance.

Slozak said the city also planned to set up a hotline for calls relating to appearance.

Councilman Jimmy Bryan asked when this would be implemented, if approved by the council. Slozak said it would be in July.

"And what about the interim between now and July?" asked Allen. "I'm not trying to be ugly, but we need to put a fire under Joe's people." Allen was referring to Joseph Sawyer, director of general services. "I think they should be seeing more of what we're seeing."

Sawyer responded that it wasn't hard to clean up the city. "It's hard to keep it clean. They move on. Five days later, they're back in the same area. It consumes time, and it's a vicious cycle."

Allen said that some of the places he was talking about had never been cleaned.

"We need to catch a couple of violators," said Slozak, "and make an example. Get (them) out cleaning up."

Mayor King agreed and said that a sign reading "I am a litterer" be placed on the offender's back.

Slozak also presented an overview of what the city was currently doing to maintain appearances.

Each quarter since late 2002 the city has swept 30 miles of curbed streets, resulting in a collection of almost 790 tons of dirt and debris. Downtown streets are swept three times a week, he said.

The city also cuts the grass of 176 city-owned vacant lots, through the streets and storm sewer division. An additional 38 are maintained by the sanitation division and 161 lots are maintained through private contracts.

Allen said he couldn't understand why the city had so many lots to maintain, and he suggested that the city try to get rid of the ones it doesn't need.

Slozak said the city inherited about 180 of the lots through the flood buyout program.

In addition, Slozak said, the city maintains 135 street rights of way, four water-tank yards and two landscaped areas on Spence Avenue.

Last year the city spent over $4,000 to cut privately owned lots. If the city cuts a lot, it puts a lien on the property for the cost and assesses a $50 fee.

The council thought the fee was too low and recommended adjusting it to be in line with administrative costs.

Other recommendations for improving appearance included establishing a tree-replanting program for lots where buildings had flooded that weren't in a residential area, joining with the federal prison to use inmates to cut and maintain city complexes and grounds, and creating a program that would allow landscape companies to maintain beautification areas for publicity.

Slozak also recommended that the city buy a leaf vacuum with an extended boom that could remove litter up to 30 feet out on the right of way for $10,000.

The council agreed to buy the leaf vacuum, but wanted more information before committing to hiring three new people.

The city will also pursue collecting fines, issuing citations and will revamp the notification process to reduce the time it takes to resolve appearance problems.

Slozak also suggested that the city initiate an "adopt a street" or site program for civic groups, volunteers or neighborhood organizations.

"People are glad we're addressing these issues and trying to clean the city up," Bryan said. "But I think we need to do as much as quickly as possible. We don't want to lose our momentum."