LETS FIX IT BY GEORGE LUMLEY

first_img“Let’s FIX” That”  BY GEORGE LUMLEYIMG_0462 THORN IN MY SIDE Actually, in this case, it is a thistle in my face. This particular thistle is located on North Main at the intersection of Florida. Note the street sign in the picture. This thistle has been a constant bother to me all summer, and it truly represents the “in your face” attitude the city has when it comes to allocating funding for basic services versus big ticket items such as the Stadium, Hotel, Dog Park, and the $15 million they are proposing to spend on the very street this thistle is growing.If Evansville does not have the funding to attend to simple code enforcement that people cut their grass, how can we afford to pay more interest on more debt? Yes, these big ticket projects will make Evansville a better place. But with limited revenues, is interest on debt and big ticket items where all available resources should be concentrated while other city functions like Fire Protection, Police, and Code Enforcement are cut? Code enforcement has been cut to the bone and people wonder why we have blighted neighborhoods.Code Enforcement seems to be a bad word in Evansville. Law Enforcement is a good thing. If someone breaks a car window and steals a fifty dollar radio, that is a big deal. So why do we allow the property next door or down the street to become unkempt and steal thousands in valuation (and property tax revenues) of surrounding properties?I attended the city-sponsored dog and pony show on blight early in the spring and listened to the presentation. I don’t think the city officials listened. The city officials were too occupied in figuring out how to spin the $2.2 million Brownfields bailout. The city-paid consultant actually said one of the cheapest, most effective of the many tools to fight blight is code enforcement.So why is code enforcement a bad word in Evansville? Well, I asked a lot of strangers on the street, and they gave me two common answers: 1) fear of retaliation and 2) it’s a waste of time. It seems that residents have a perception that if they report a violation there will be repercussions from the person being reported or even from the Building Commission itself. A common complaint was that if you call in on a neighbor for a building code issue, the inspectors will find something wrong with your place to discourage the complaints. Others said why bother – nothing is done with the complaints.I took special notice of the pink flags that started popping up like mushrooms in the spring. No rhyme or reason in what high grass they might appear. A close look one day on Virginia Street revealed more than twenty five properties in violation of the weed ordinance but only three were flagged. The three were flagged on three different days, even though they were only a few blocks apart with several adjacent out of compliance properties that remained un-flagged. I wondered why they were not flagged the same day. Picking some that were not as bad as others and on different days made no sense. A call to the city revealed that they only flag what people turn in; so, I took it upon myself to start turning them in. Just a few at first, but then that escalated to emailing a page of addresses every day or two. At first I could see the flags appear in a few days, but then it seemed to slow to a crawl with properties not being flagged and those flagged not being cut. I called the city, and they explained that they get behind every year and it takes time to get caught up.As a volunteer to help fight the blight, I printed some fliers and asked others to help me call in the non-compliant properties. I was often greeted by a property owner that claimed certain properties had already been called in but there was no follow-up. At the end of May, I was disappointed that some properties reported were not being flagged. I called again to the city and was told that the ordinance says they try to inspect in 2 days, but they do get behind and it is also discretionary whether the inspector agrees that the weed ordinance is in violation. If they don’t think it’s a violation, we will not see a flag. How could they not find some of these in violation? They had not yet been cut the for the first time this year. I continued skeptically, but things were dragging out far too long. By the end of June, based on what I had turned in and what I saw being cut, I figured the flagging inspectors and cutting crews would be busy until the snow started, even if no other properties were turned in. I could see the system was dysfunctional but continued to turn in properties in July (tried to quit but was addicted) and included a photo with each address to document the violation, just in case the inspector disagreed with me.Now it was time to evaluate where the city really stood on following up on the weed complaints. Under the Indiana public records access laws, I requested the record of the logging of complaints and follow-up action for the months of May and June. Of course it took a while to get that, because, for some reason the city thinks the public records should be a private diary; however, I did get it. The first thing I noticed was how few entries there were. Only 1,885, or about 30 per calendar day, and I knew that I had a spreadsheet of 982 that I personally had sent in. Had I actually turned in more than the entire city of Evansville?A review of the 8 weeks of data showed that the time from the complaint until the inspection had gone from about two days in the first week of May to 2 weeks by the middle of June. Now, some of those flags that I was waiting to see pop up – well, they didn’t and never will because there is no entry for the majority of my complaints. I had emailed 982 addresses, but the city record only listed 348 total email complaints from everyone. Looking at the email complaints that were logged, about 90% were from me. That calculates to 669 properties that I took the time to write down the address and turn into the city that they did not even bother to log into the system. Now that is a thistle in the face. I definitely understand why many people believe that it will not do any good to turn in the violations.I have reviewed some of the budget hearing info for 2014 and 2015. It is my opinion that council members know or should have known that the budget for summer help for the weed program has been cut to zero. They should know that funding for the contract cutting of unkempt areas has been cut to a minimum and spread so thin (to make it look like it lasts all summer), that there is a weed code enforcement program in name only. I guess my analysis wasn’t really necessary; you just need to drive a few of the less affluent neighborhoods to see we have no weed program. Take the time to drive down North Main and look at this thistle and the ragweed and other shabby vegetation growing along this main boulevard. Places prepared in the sidewalk from the 1980s’ revitalization for trees are mostly filled with weeds and other rank plants. If we can’t afford to take care of what we have and fund basic code enforcement, how can we afford multi-million dollar projects?Again, code enforcement is a cheap tool that we already have. However, it does need a little fine tuning and proper funding to be an effective tool. The Brownfields’ requested $2.2 million per year bailout is a folly into land banking. It is expensive to hold properties, as represented by their request for $1.2 million in administrative fees that will drastically escalate as they become owners of more and more vacant lots. Put public resources where they will do the most good. We have not needed the Brownfields for a demolition program in the past, and we do not need them now. We do not need the Brownfields Corp to mow lots. We DO need to put our blight resources into prevention, code enforcement, demolition, and allowing responsible residents to own and care for the properties within their neighborhood without paying a ransom to the Brownfields Corp.FacebookTwitterCopy LinkEmailSharelast_img

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