Public still at odds with proposed meth ordinance

BUCKHANNON – A proposed ordinance for methamphetamine abatement in Buckhannon residences was tabled once more after the Upshur County Landlord Association and one new local voice stepped up to speak out.

The ordinance proposes that in cases where meth labs or other abused substances are discovered in a residence, the dwelling must be tested for the chemical residue that can be left behind. If it is discovered to be contaminated, it must then be cleaned before it again can be occupied.

Landlords have expressed concerns about who would bear the cost of the tests and cleanup, but a new speaker addressed Council with a very different issue regarding the ordinance.

Christine Bennett, co-manager of Haven of Outreach, Prevention and Education, said she took issue with creating a registry of drug offenders for the use of landlords who do not want to rent to known drug users because some people could change. She said other people, who could be placed on the list as a result of someone else’s actions, would be prevented from renting homes because their child or someone visiting their house might have been making drugs without that person’s knowledge.

“I must elaborate on that request so that we can ensure our actions as a community in fighting this (drug) disease are proactive and not reactive – or worse – destructive,” Bennett said.

Bennett said the Landlord’s Association already has tackled some of her other concerns, but the creation of the registry was her “deepest” concern.

“Placing a member of our community on a path for failure should never be an option,” Bennett said. “The momentum generated in facilitating Buckhannon’s self-proclaimed ‘war on drugs’ can only be sustained if (the) local government is willing to address and remove barriers that prohibit the collective desired goal. This registry will be one of those barriers and a tool that could be used equally for as much a negative outcome as the possibility of good. … We must remove the barriers that catapult these individuals back into the cycle we are so desperately trying to break.

Landlords who own property in the city have voiced concerns that the costs of testing and the potentially subsequent clean-up fees could be a burden on them when it is their tenants who are the offenders. Some landlords further state that they own multiple properties, and if multiple labs or substances are discovered on those properties, the burden could be even greater.

City Attorney David McCauley said many of the concerns brought up by UCLA Treasurer Jody Light and other landlords, are issues the ordinance itself does not change. He said it is the homeowner who would endure that cost according to state laws, even if the ordinance doesn’t pass. The city attorney and some Council members also argued that the ordinance, while reaffirming existing state laws, actually helps landlords, because it requires simultaneous notification of landlords and state and local officials once a drug lab has been discovered.

The ordinance was tabled unanimously, but City Recorder Rich Clemens said he would be in favor of just discontinuing it altogether.

“The more I hear the complaints and the more I hear the concerns, I’m thinking that the best action I could do to satisfy all their concerns is, I think I’m going to withdraw my support for the entire ordinance,” Clemens said, later adding that he believes the ordinance was done to help landlords. “Just withdraw it. I think we’ve got to the point where we’ve tried to help you, and you don’t want it. So I would suggest since 95 percent of this is covered by the state, that we just withdraw (the ordinance) entirely.”

Bennett asked Council to reconsider taking time to make ordinances that duplicate existing laws.

“I ask the Council to reconsider making additional ordinances which simply overlay or duplicate those which are already in place, this giving an air of an ordinance happy city,” Bennett said, “and instead focus efforts on implementation to capitalize from penalties already in place.”

Later in the meeting, City Administrator Michael Doss suggested City Council consider creating an ordinance allowing him and his staff to enforce the collection of delinquent fire and police fees; however, members of the Council requested it not be a consideration until after conflicts over existing ordinances become resolved.