Former mayor: Take it to the voting booth

Jimmy Hammond, former Elkins mayor, ended his letter to the editor about distressed and dilapidated structures saying, “Take it to the voting booth.” I echo these words.

A Vacant Structure Ordinance was passed by Elkins City Council in 2011. On June 16, 2016, an Ordinance of the City of Elkins, WV, amended Chapter 5, Article 1 , of the Elkins City Code, providing for enactment of a Vacant Building Registration program. A structure is registered by the Code Enforcement Officer when it is determined that a vacant building may present a fire hazard, may provide temporary occupancy by transients, may detract from private and or public efforts to rehabilitate or maintain surrounding buildings, and that the health, safety and welfare of the public is served by the regulation of such vacant buildings.

Owners of vacant buildings shall register such vacant building with the city, make payment of a fee for the registration and conform to the vacant building regulations. A building shall be deemed to be vacant if no person actually conducts a licensed business, resides, dwells or lives in any part of the building, if the outside is in violation of the building codes or health and sanitation codes and if there is not proof of continual utility service evidencing actual use of electric, gas and water at a minimum. All grass is to be mowed regularly. Registration shall be required for all vacant buildings whether vacant and secure, vacant and open, or vacant and boarded after remaining vacant for 45 consecutive days or more.

Fees shall be billed by the city by the following scale: No fee if vacant less than one year; $200 if vacant for at least one year; $400 if vacant at least two years; $600 if vacant for at least three years; $800 if vacant for at least four years, etc. If the owner fails to pay the assessed fee, the city may take action to sell the property. In 2016, there were 37 vacant properties identified.

Through a Freedom of Information Act request, seven properties paid their assessment from 3/28/17 to 3/28/18 in the amount of $3,600. On 8/14/18 the city showed 24 vacant properties (there are a lot more than that); however, no fees were collected from 3/29/18 to 8/14/18.

I cannot get an answer as to why there haven’t been any more fees paid. The city is missing revenue. Who decided they didn’t need to be assessed? This ordinance was enacted to encourage owners of vacant properties to take care of their properties and not leave them vacant. Without fees being assessed, vacant property owners have no incentive.

Those residents attending Town Hall meetings have expressed concerns about these vacant structures for over three years, but their concerns are not recognized by city officials. How would they like to live next to a vacant structure that has roaches, rats, transients and high vegetation growing? These citizens living next door to vacant properties have first-hand knowledge of these problems.

I have been denied to be on the agenda at the Public Safety meetings to address these concerns. A warning was issued by city officials, that non city residents should not attend the Town Hall meetings. What are they afraid of?

If you feel we need new representatives on City Council, I encourage you to seriously consider filing for City Council. The filing period is between Oct. 29 and Nov. 16. Applications are at City Hall. The City Election is in March. We need open dialogue with our elected officials. Now is the time to “Take it to the Voting Booth.”

Judy Guye

Elkins Mayor 2003-2009