09/24/08 — City takes next steps to clean up properties

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City takes next steps to clean up properties

By Anessa Myers
Published in News on September 24, 2008 1:46 PM

Goldsboro Mayor Al King told city staff at a recent council meeting it was time to clean up the dilapidated structures in the city, and Chief Building Inspector Ed Cianfarra said his department is doing just that -- even more so now than in the past.

"The council has given us marching orders to clean up the town, and that's what we're going to do," Cianfarra said.

Currently, there are 302 houses that don't meet minimum housing codes and are in phases that will likely result in condemnation and demolition if the structure isn't repaired.

That number is up from only 171 houses that were on the list in July, Cianfarra said.

"We are writing up more than we ever have before," he said.

One reason for the increase in dilapidated write-ups is that the department now has another set of hands to help.

The city hired an administrative assistant who strictly handles minimum housing, allowing inspectors to get out of the office and into the field more often.

Even with more than 300 homes on the dilapidated list, there are many more out there. Cianfarra knows that, and his inspectors are working to rid the city of them.

"We have about 70 first-contact letters out, too," he said. "Those aren't considered to be in the files yet."

First-contact letters go out to homeowners whose houses are not yet on the minimum housing list, but are close to it.

The process is one that will take some time, Cianfarra added.

"We're still playing catch-up from years before because of the limited staff and budget we had," he said. "It's going to take a long time to say we're in a normal cycle because we're still picking up the pieces from previous years."

The budget allotted to him for cleaning up the city is still an issue, too.

Cianfarra received about $75,000 from the City Council this year for demolition. He only has about $20,000 of that left, and there are nine more months to go in the fiscal year.

The costs associated with the demolition of the properties are not items that can be cut down, he says.

"It costs us about $3,000 to $5,000 per house for asbestos removal," he said. "The city crews demolish some of the houses, but there are some that we have to put out to bid because of the size or the location of the property.

"City crews won't tear down something that is too big or that is too close to another home. And that usually costs between $8,000 and $12,000 to demolish one of those houses."

In a separate ordinance currently titled "Demolition by Neglect," the Inspections Department also targets houses in the Historic District -- which spans generally from William Street to Carolina Street and from Elm Street to Vine Street including Park Avenue -- that aren't up to minimum housing standards.

And with that ordinance comes another list of code violators. There are currently 61 active cases, where three people have been fined, Cianfarra said.

"Although I don't like the name of the ordinance, the intent of it is to make sure owners take care of their property and keep it safe," Cianfarra said. "We try to work with people. But if they persist in not repairing and (not) cooperating with us, then I will up the costs. The first day the fine is $50 plus administrative fees. The second day it is $100 plus administrative fees."

Cianfarra added he starts by fining owners once a month, then moves the time period up to once every two weeks and even once a day if the property owner shows no signs of repairing the structure or cooperating with inspection officials.

"At some point, we have to get the property owner's attention to either fix the building, demolish the building or sell it to someone who will fix it up," he said.

The city inspectors don't just target residential buildings, however.

They are going after industrial and commercial buildings as well, many that have sat vacant and deteriorating for years, the chief building inspector said.

"When we say minimum housing, that building code takes into account commercial buildings," Cianfarra said. "Like these old tobacco warehouses, we're going after those, too. We can't let those deteriorate anymore."

Overall, it is much better for all property owners to work with city inspection officials from the start, Cianfarra said.

"I'd venture to say that about 98 percent of those homeowners (of dilapidated dwellings) who waited and got extensions from the council never did get their property fixed up," he said.