CHIPLEY - The City of Chipley is looking to give its code enforcement ordinance more teeth in order to give the city more authority when it comes to dealing with abandoned property.
City council members tasked Attorney Michelle Jordan with revising the ordinance when the board met in a workshop on Thursday.
The issue was brought to the forefront by a now two-year old effort to demolish the abandoned property known as the Hicks house, located on Second Street.
The Council gave Jordan the green light in February to pursue a court order that would allow the city to take action on the property, but the attorney advised the council Thursday that the city would assume any liabilities associated with the lot as soon as the city took possession of the property.
Jordan asked council members to consider contacting the Hicks heirs to see if they would consider donating or selling the property instead of having the city move forward with the foreclosure.
"This would allow the city to know what they are getting into ahead of time," Jordan explained. "Whereas a foreclosure would be blinding assuming ownership, the other option would give us time to do a survey and environmental study to assess whether there are existing lot line issues or environmental concerns such as ground contamination."
The council hopes the proposed revisions to the ordinance would help avoid similar issues in the future by streamlining the process of dealing with nuisance properties that have been abandoned so the city can know ahead of time what type of liabilities it may be taking on.
"When people aren't complying with code enforcement or have simply left and abandoned the property, you have to be able to do something," said City Administrator Dan Miner. "We have to deal with it, so whatever needs to be done, we are relying on legal to guide us."
Former Chipley Planning and Zoning board member Barbara James question why the city was still dealing with the Hicks house years after the decision had been made to demolish it. Miner stated the process "just takes time," and that the revised ordinance should help future such sites from taking as long to clean up.
Former city councilwoman Cheryl Gainer McCall first approached the Hick property issues in 2008.
In other business, the city's finances received a clean bill of health from auditors Carr, Riggs, and Ingram when the annual report was presented by Hilton Galloway.
"The city is in a good financial position and is highly liquid," Galloway said. "Chipley can set funds aside for projects over and above what is already budgeted. There is a lot of good money being spent in the community."
Galloway stated the only area of concern lies in the fact the natural gas system continues to operate at a deficit.
A rate study recently concluded by Florida Gas Utilities is expected to help combat the issue and is set to be presented when the council meets again in August. Currently, the deficit trends at about $72,000 a year.
The study is believed to be the first natural gas study in about ten years and is needed to bring Chipley in line with what other communities are charging. To date, the difference has been compensated through the city's natural gas reserves, but those reserves are running out, any future deficit would have to made up through the city's general funds.
The council also heard from Chipley Police Chief Scott Thompson, who states the traditionally anticipated problems of illegal and dangerous fireworks in the area of Anderson Street were less severe this year.
Newly appointed Code Enforcement Officer Levi Yohn reported code enforcement has recently addressed 64 cases with 13 closed for this month and seven closed from the previous month.
The city also addressed damage to portions of Third Street's resurfacing project and was advised contractor GAC will be fixing the damage.
The Fifth Street ditch will be cleaned out starting Monday, and Councilman Brett Butler reported he had looked at and contacted the utility companies about getting the utility pole replaced so that the Fifth Street drainage and resurfacing project could proceed.
The Recreation Department reported the boys All-Stars have been selected compete at the state level, prompting former councilmember to question why the Washington County Board of Commissioners hasn't contributed to recreation in ten years.
County Commissioner Tray Hawkins was in attendance of the workshop and assured the council the county would address giving budget support to assist all county municipalities where county children participate in recreational sports. Hawkins with working with Miner and other municipality officials to determine how to base payments on the number of county kids participating.
Council members agreed to resurface one block of Watts Avenue but did not mention milling. McCall asked why the council would add more asphalt without milling, and discussion ensued about adding milling to the proposal. Ultimately, the council agreed to accept the contractor's cost of $8,500 to mill the existing asphalt in addition to the $16,437 to resurface the road.
Chipley City Council will meet again at 6 p.m. Tuesday, July 11.