Officials look at cleaning up property

ELKINS — Elkins City Council’s Finance Committee discussed the need for remediation of an Elkins property at its Tuesday meeting.

City officials said the owner of a Howe Street property has been cited by Code Enforcement Officer Phil Isner, and was given a remediation time by Municipal Court Judge Robert Jones last fall but has failed to comply.

“He has stuff everywhere — on city property, on city rights-of-way. Sometime this spring we calculated his fine for his failure to do anything. It was about $11,000,” said Elkins City Attorney Gerri Roberts. “It’s $100 a day for failure to comply. I have no idea what it (has added up to) now.”

Roberts said the property owner was previously incarcerated and is now out of prison.

“My understanding is he is still refusing to do anything,” said Roberts.

“We’ve done everything we can as far as code enforcement can try to enforce the issue,” added Elkins Operations Manager Bob Pingley.

Pingley previously attempted to assess the cost of cleaning up the property. “It would be hard even to guess what that would cost,” he said.

Pingley said the cost of remediating the property is estimated to be between $6,000 to $8,000.

“I can’t do it with our resources,” said Pingley. “If we go in there and clean it up, there’s nothing in the world to stop them from starting again.”

Roberts acknowledged that the property owners have made minimal effort to improve the property since the fall.

“There was like the movement of a vehicle. There were several unregistered vehicles. All of the sudden one disappeared for a little bit, and then one showed back up,” said Roberts. “You all want code enforcement to be out there doing these things. So, if the person refuses to do it, the only option is that the city has to do it. This is a major job.”

“There’s this constant chant that we aren’t enforcing property regulations,” she said. “The problem is we don’t know where the money will come from.”

Fourth Ward Councilwoman Marilynn Cuonzo stated her opinion on the issue.

“The frustration comes with trying to have the neighbors understand that the city is in kind of a dilemma. The neighbors can put pressure on people like him to clean up his house, and they absolutely should, but I do think that the city needs to work with the neighbors in some regard to let them know that we’re trying to fix a problem that seems unfixable,” she said.

First Ward Councilwoman Judy Guye Swanson, who has been vocal about code enforcement issues, stated that she thought the estimated cost of cleanup was “just too much” to spend in city funds when the property owner could begin to reaccumulate items on the property after cleanup.

“It is a decision that this committee ultimately needs to figure out: how many dollars are you going to spend — on either public or private rights of way — to clean up things that people refuse to clean up that are in violation of the state building code or the property maintenance code?” said Roberts.

Second Ward Councilman and committee member Charlie Friddle also offered his opinion on the matter.

“Certainly we all agree that we would like to have everything clean and spiffy and all the dilapidated properties cleaned, but we have to look at the amount of money we have to work with and do the things that need to be done that may, in other people’s opinions, be a higher priority,” he said.

“There are a number of priorities out there that we’re facing that are going to cost a lot of money, and I think everybody knows what those are, and there are probably some we don’t know about that are going to come up as time goes on,” Friddle said. “I think it would be a very unwise decision to start spending money in these situations where we could be facing the same problems on the same property in the not too distant future.”

“Something I hear regularly is that the city doesn’t do anything about enforcing its own ordinances, but people really don’t know the whole story,” added Roberts. “In this case, the city did exactly what it should do, and here we are up against the wall.”

Roberts said code enforcement officers have “done all the things they can, up through going through municipal court and doing all the things that are possible.”

Pingley proposed that he meet with Isner and Roberts once again to discuss “more creative” ideas as to how to have the property remediated.

“We do have some leverage to force things, but we have to be very careful about how we use them,” he said.

Roberts agreed and stated that she was “more than happy” to speak directly with the property owner, as she has not since he has been released from incarceration. She added, “You have to get that message out that the city has done something. They’ve done a whole lot, and it’s a bigger problem that I think council really needs to think long and hard about.”