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“We’ve always done it that way”

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July 29, 2011 by wcobserver

During the July West Fork Council Meeting the subject of the need for a city code enforcement officer was brought up. In the current arrangement a citizen must make a complaint about a possible violation of the city code regarding animals running loose, derelict houses, back yard auto salvage yards, illegal signs, unkempt and/or unsafe property before something is done — or, unfortunately, not done.

Towns that use a code enforcement person charge him or her with the job of patrolling the town for violations and usually informing the property owner of the violation by registered letter. If it goes further there is accountability and documentation at every step.

This procedure eliminates turning neighbor against neighbor in the complaint process, insures that someone familiar with city code is involved and establishes a framework for possible future legal action.

In small towns the code enforcement officer may be part-time or contracted and is also often responsible for insuring that building construction inspections are in compliance with city building ordinances. The code enforcement function focuses on violations of the city code that aren’t criminal in nature – they are not the police. And the police do not generally want to handle code enforcement because it confuses their law enforcement identity. One week you’re telling a guy to cleanup his property, the next week you’re getting in the middle of his violent domestic dispute Greenland has a code inspector, West Fork does not.

Mayor Hime wants to change that. The current procedure is to use Police Chief Nelson and/or Water Superintendent/issuer -of –building-permits Bartholomew as the complaint responders.

Changing that way of doing things brought a strong objection from long time council member Julie Shafer who reasoned, “We’ve always done it that way.”

That’s true. And that’s probably the strongest argument for why West Fork should change the way they’ve been doing it. Remember way back to last year and the “House on the Corner?” A prominent citizen maintained a world class nuisance property in the center of town for years before anything could get done… years. It was a lawyer field day and even after a federal judge ruled the house eligible for demolition the city’s inspection and permitting procedures, or lack of, resulted in the city having to foot the bill to demolish the structures on the property.

Incredible as that seems, to this day the city has not changed or even ​publicly examined any aspect of the code enforcement or building inspection process.

​Sure, change is sometimes hard to take. But after you’ve spent thousands of taxpayer dollars to remove a condemned building, or been summoned to the Legislative Audit Committee for failing to have audits done on time, or lost turn-back tax revenue because your town is being left behind in population growth, or allowed the water department to go broke and siphon off public funds to make payroll, maybe it’s time to give some serious thought to how you’ve been doing things.

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