In open letters to the community and at city council meetings leading up to the April election, council members and other city officials made clear their commitment to cleaning Sikeston up, primarily through a four-pronged approach which included the stricter enforcement of municipal property codes, the passage and implementation of a rental ordinance, proactively dealing with derelict structures and redevelopment efforts for blighted areas.
Dealing with derelict structures and redevelopment efforts will soon be aided by the establishment and implementation of the Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority approved by voters at the April 3 election.
Linda Lowes, director of governmental services for Sikeston, said requests for proposals for professional consulting services for the LCRA were sent out following the election.
On May 29, city staff received authorization from Council to negotiate an agreement with the urban consulting firm Peckham, Guyton, Albers and Viets (PGAV) of St. Louis to assist with development and implementation of the LCRA.
PGAV has conducted research and is currently developing a proposed ordinance that would create that actual LCRA Commission, according to Lowes.
At 4 p.m. Sept. 4, John Brancaglione from PGAV is scheduled to make a presentation for the city council on their research. He will give an overview of PGAV's proposed LCRA ordinance as well as organization and financial structure for the proposed LCRA Commission.
Following the presentation, Council will study the proposed ordinance in preparation for action slated for the city council meeting scheduled Oct. 1, according to Lowes. Appointments to the commission are also expected to be made at this time if the ordinance is approved.
"The (LCRA) commission will be ready to go sometime in October or early November if everything goes as planned," said Lowes.
Bill Green, director of the department of economic development, will oversee the efforts between the LCRA and city officials.
In the meantime, the city has continued its efforts both in dealing with derelict properties and in code enforcement, according to Tom Bridger, public works director.
The city will continue to demolish structures with safety and health issues, although derelict structures generally will be addressed sooner and more easily through the LCRA, according to Bridger.
Bridger said code enforcement officials have shown "a considerable increase" in the number of citations issued for tall weeds and grass, junk and trash and derelict vehicles. With the year not complete, property maintenance code citations have nearly tripled from last year.
"They're being cited and fined," said Bridger. "Every trial night at court at least one code enforcement official has to appear to testify. Sometimes several code officers."
Bridger noted for every complaint signed, the code enforcement officer must also make an inspection before each court appearance. Although most cases require only one or two inspections, some need three or four inspections by the time it is resolved in court.
The higher fines for property maintenance code violations have resulted in fewer repeat offenders, according to Bridger. "Its more of a deterrence," he said. "One appearance in court now usually takes care of the problem instead of multiple appearances."
The new rental registration ordinance has also kept code inspectors busy.
In addition to inspections for property maintenance enforcement, code enforcement officers are conducting inspections mandated by the rental ordinance. Each of the 548 applications filled out so far for changes of occupancies required an exterior inspection of the rental.
Compliance with the rental ordinance has been good, with only 14 complaints filed for failure to register occupancy changes. Sikeston presently has 692 landlords, according to Bridger.
A few failures to register were due to property being rented out while the landlords were out of town, said Bridger. In others, the landlord has left the paperwork with the renter with instructions to complete and submit the forms.
"Ultimately it is the landlords' responsibility to make sure the document is filled out and taken to city hall," said Bridger.
Interior inspections are also required every two years for rental properties. Some landlords have requested the interior inspections upon a change of occupancy, however. "It's easier to look around when it's empty than when it's occupied," said Bridger. "Several have asked if that could be done."
Even with the increased workload, Bridger said the city's resolve for stricter code enforcement has been a moral boost for code enforcement officers. "They're seeing a difference," said Bridger. "They're making progress."
Strict enforcement of property maintenance codes and the increase in inspections due to the rental ordinance have had a noticeable positive effect on the way properties are kept up around Sikeston, according to Bridger. "We have seen a major difference in inspections of property. They're cleaned up more regularly."