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City of Buckhannon cracking down on trash, tall grass

The Inter-Mountain photo by Amanda Hayes Buckhannon code enforcement zoning officer Vincent Smith talks to City Council members about enforcing the city’s ordinances against excess trash and tall grass.

BUCKHANNON — The City of Buckhannon has become more aggressive at tackling vacant property issues in the city limits.

Now it is looking at ways to enforce problems such as excess trash or tall grass at an even faster rate.

Since January, code enforcement zoning officer Vincent Smith said he has written six warning tickets and six citations to property owners.

“I know some of you guys get frustrated when you say ‘hey, there is high grass,’ or ‘hey, there is trash in someone,” he said at Thursday’s regular Buckhannon City Council meeting. “We have a procedure we need to follow which takes upwards of 2 ¢ months. By that time, the trash is terrible, the rats are in the trash and the grass is 3-feet high.”

City attorney Tom O’Neill has researched an avenue that will allow the city in some circumstances such as trash or grass to speed up that process, according to Smith. The hope is that the complaints can be resolved more quickly under this process.

The city has also made progress on dealing with vacant homes in the city.

There are now 57 vacant homes in the city — down from 149 several years ago.

The ordinance passed a few years ago had a positive effect in getting those property owners to either sell their property or rent them to avoid being charged a fee, according to Smith. a

“The ordinance did what it was supposed to,” he said. “We have streamlined it. Some have been torn down. We have come a long way.”

It’s been a difficult process to work through that list due to Smith only being available three days a week.

“You would need a full-time person just to track it,” he said.

However, with the help of city hall staff, Smith said there has been progress.

Now, those 57 vacant homes will be getting invoices in the next two to three weeks.

Ordinance 367 which can be found online at www.buckhannonwv.org details the process and fees accessed for property owners who fail to comply.

“I’m sure you will get calls,” he said.

Councilman David Thomas said at a recent housing enforcement board meeting they discussed they had been talking about the same properties, in some cases, for over 10 years.

“What people are concerned about – the citizens who are residing here – they see the deterioration in their property values with people not taking care of their properties,” he said. “I think that is something that the housing enforcement committee needs to be commended for that are here this evening.”

Thomas said he expected council members would get phone calls.”

“The main thing I am concerned about is we all deal with a level planning field,” Thomas said. “We don’t give someone an extra deal because of who somebody is or what the organization is.”

Smith said that O’Neill had drafted a letter that had already been sent out to address two issues for junk and debris on the city right of way which had been happening for years.

“I think at the direction of the housing enforcement board we are proceeding to put some teeth in things,” he said.

Mayor Robbie Skinner said, “We owe it to the neighbors in these neighborhoods who diligently and faithfully keep up their properties day in and day out, year in and year out. It’s just not right that one piece of property can pull down an entire neighborhood. If you show pride in your residence and your next door neighbor does not, you wonder what you are doing it for, because your property value is adversely affected when your neighbor’s property is not kept up to par. We need to make sure it’s a priority that our neighborhoods are kept safe and kept in good order.”

Smith said he and director of finance and administration Amberle Jenkins attended the tax lien sale last November and identified two properties the city had liens against.

“Historically, when there are liens on the property and they get sold at the tax sale, we lose our money,” he said. At the direction of council, Amby and I went and bid on two of the properties we had liens on. We are hoping to get the blessing of council and do that again this November when this comes up. These are blighted properties. That puts the control in our hands that 18 months down the road (if those properties aren’t redeemed by the property owners) we can do something with them. We can tear them down, fix them up, sell them to someone who will fix them up with a remediation plan in place. I think it’s a good thing and I want to thank council for allowing us to do that to protect our interests.”

Smith also wanted to remind everyone about the six-foot fence requirement for pools which was changed in the city limits several years ago.

“People will call in for a pool adjustment for their water,” he said. “I go out and check. If it doesn’t have a six-foot fence or barricade around it, we don’t give it to them.”

People think their pool should be grandfathered in because they have had it before.

“If you have a child that could climb over your fence and drown in your pool, that would be a tragic day for our city, that is what we are trying to prevent,” he said.

Skinner said most insurance companies require at least four feet fence and most are sitting around six feet.

In other business, council:

— approved, on motion by city recorder Randy Sanders and seconded by councilwoman Mary Albaugh, ordinance 446 updating the State Building Code Adoption from 2015 to 2017. Due to the fire marshal’s requirements and deadline, O’Neill said this would be considered an emergency ordinance so it can be in effect sooner than the usual 30 days waiting period.

— approved, on motion by Thomas and seconded by Albaugh, the approval of the new street name beside CVS. Through a community-wide vote, citizens selected Apothecary Way.

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