During a recent City Council meeting a number of landlords were in attendance to express their views on the existing Zero Tolerance Code Enforcement Policy. While I understand their position, I also know that Council and I made a pledge to our voters to clean up our community, and work toward the restoration of our neighborhoods. The City has started this process and will continue to work toward this common goal.
As you may recall in my previous message, the City has included money in this year's budget to purchase software that will allow Code Enforcement Staff to better manage inspection/code enforcement functions. Currently, our computer software is extremely limited in correlating information and we find ourselves doing too many things manually. City Staff has scheduled presentations with vendors whose software will enable us to track all aspects of code compliance. Data to be collected will include; who owns the property, who rents the property, what type of violations have occurred on the property, number of violations that have occurred on the property, outcome of the court case, design of the structure on the property (photo), type of utility hook up on the property, permits issued for the property, and onsite filing of complaints.
It is our goal to eventually send Code Officers into the field with wireless, portable computers that will transmit or download data to City Hall. When this technology is up and running, it will allow e-mail notification to be sent to the landlord at the same time a property maintenance violation complaint is filed against the tenant.
I understand the concerns of the landlords, and I do believe that we will be in a position, next year, to provide this e-mail notification. I also believe that landlords are capable of controlling their property if they would properly screen their tenants. Credit checks, criminal histories, payment information from the BMU and gas company, and proper identification can all be obtained if landlords would require tenant applications that include information release forms allowing landlords to access this information. Many of the folks who rent property in this town want to remain anonymous, and sometimes, merely asking for an ID will move them along to another town. The criminal element, the deadbeat, the person who has no respect for himself or property does not like to be in an environment in which they know they must conform to rules or face consequences, therefore, I believe it is imperative that we continue to hold landlords and tenants jointly responsible. What we need is the landlord to be proactive and let us know about conditions that exist so we have the chance to work through problems and get them corrected. We have several landlords that started doing this on day one, and it seems to work well.
We have had two roundups by Public Safety in the last couple of months. We served warrants and made arrests for everything from robbery ... to assault ... to the distribution of drugs. Seventy-five percent of those arrested were living in rental property (36 of 48). I have to believe that if landlords had done the background reviews that many of these criminals would not have resided in our community. Remember, this is the same element that creates problems for our local schools and the hospital, and one only has to look at the morning police summaries to know that a majority of our call load goes to serving this group. One landlord openly admitted to living in Bloomfield and owning 40 properties in Sikeston ... aside from getting his rent, what does it matter to him if he puts a criminal element into our community? Some of the landlords who were present during the Council Meeting own good property, however, some of them have property that will only attract tenants who want to "hide" and pay cash ... this is what we are trying to "weed" out with our no tolerance policy and all of the efforts of public safety.
The City made a concerted effort to notify everyone of the new Zero Tolerance Policy. More than a dozen news articles appeared in the local paper, and notice was posted on our Website. News of the Zero Tolerance Policy was broadcast on the radio, and discussed at numerous council meetings. Presentations were made to service clubs and at chamber of commerce meetings. It appeared in church bulletins, and on more than 400 ads on our local television channel.
To help our residents comply with the new policy, the City provided free dumpsters for nine consecutive days (March 27 - April 4). $43,000* worth of municipal resources were committed to provide a no-cost alternative to our citizens, homeowners as well as tenants and landlords, to clean up residential property. (* $19,000 of this total was included as part of the City's annual contract with Sonny's Solid Waste. The additional cost, $24,000, was paid out of the City's FY-04 maintenance and operations budget.)
Junk and trash collected during this period filled 52 30-yard roll off dumpsters, four 40-yard roll offs full of white goods (refrigerators, freezers, etc.), and included approximately 350 tires of all shapes and sizes. Additionally, the City's Compost Site has been open 10 times since March to take any type of vegetation from properties.
Regardless of the City's efforts, numerous violations persisted. Municipal Court records from May 13 through July 8 reflect the following:
450 complaints for a variety of public nuisance violations (tall grass, junk vehicles, junk and trash). These violations have been written in every part of town.
156 guilty pleas (34 percent)
74 failures to appear in court - no shows (16 percent)
75 not guilty pleas - requesting trials (16 percent)
47 continuances (10 percent)
72 dismissals (16 percent)
26 warrants issued or cases taken under advisement (8 percent).
These numbers do not reflect the number of cases, in which, the Code Office worked with an individual who contacted us regarding the situation, and no complaint was issued because the landlord/tenant was working to correct the problem.
Rest assured, the Code Enforcement Office recognizes the importance of working with the citizen, and it is our goal to provide exceptional public service.
I'm Sikeston Proud.