CHIPLEY - City of Chipley needs a full-time code enforcement officer. That was the general consensus held by Chipley City Council at a workshop held Thursday evening.
The city has never had a full-time code enforcement officer, and several over the last five years.
"We need some stability," said councilman Kevin Russell, one of the more vocal council members on the issue.
The topic was added to the agenda after Cheryl Gainer McCall expressed her concerns during the public participation segment of the meeting about abandoned, dilapidated or otherwise grossly unkempt and rundown properties around the city. She referenced an email she sent to the council on May 8.
The email included a photo of a property on North Fifth Street. McCall stated the house and property "are in a state of trash and disrepair."
"When code enforcement is not being worked properly, this is the direct result," she wrote, later noting the "lack of code enforcement has a direct result in the decline of the property, the type of residents looking at the property, and the eventual decline of the neighborhood."
"It is very evident over the last 10 years that a part time code enforcement position is not getting the job done," she wrote.
For the month of March alone, code enforcement had 54 active cases, with the majority being in reference to junk, trash and debris. For April, there were 45 cases, which translated into three pages of active cases - none with citations and three that have been reviewed before the code enforcement board.
"These orders sit out there for years and years and nobody really follows up and tries to collect," said City Attorney Michelle Jordan. "What I suggested to them was to consider an ordinance to establish a timeline internally within the city - a calendar, when the order gets entered, then 180 days it gets sent to the attorney to review title to see if the council wants to foreclose."
Jordan, whose position was that the city had a manpower issue, not a legal one, suggested the council request, in the short term, to share the county's code enforcement officer, and to adopt a resolution as recognition of their intent to take action against properties in violation.
However, some council members, while open to it, seemed to gravitate more to simply hiring a full-time officer.
Russell noted that in the past code enforcement and planning and zoning had been a combined function. And, since "planning and zoning has really picked up," it would be wise to designate the departments under two separate functionalities - essentially, hiring someone to handle code enforcement specifically.
"It's going to take some looking into our financials to find out how we're able to fund that and what's going to be best for the city," Mayor Tracy Andrews said.
"Look in that budget and find it," said councilwoman Linda Cain said to City Clerk Patrice Tanner.
The council will further discuss filling the position at the upcoming meeting Tuesday at 6 p.m. at City Hall.
Also at the workshop, the council heard from Chipley Redevelopment Agency Director Ted Everett in regards to streamlining the grant award process. The council requested that the CRA make intentional efforts to inform and clarify the process step-by-step, from application to award, to all applicants.
"I always encourage, you've got a question, call me," Everett said. "We want to be transparent, and we always have."
A heated discussion also ensued regarding the 11-year-long, $60,000 alleyway project. The CRA recently approved a plumbing proposal from High Plumbing Inc. in the amount of $2,050 for a preventative plumbing project at the alleyway downtown near The Parlor.
Councilman Kevin Russell heavily questioned Everett on why the total project is still incomplete, essentially, why additional funds needed to be spent on repairs so soon.
Everett responded, saying he was told the contractor "had laid PVC pipe underneath the concrete and that will rub the PVC and sometime three years, five years, or ten years - and then flooding would occur."
"We wanted to correct any potential problems after we just spent $60,000 of tax payers' money," Everett said, noting the council bid out the contracts, and the CRA funded it.
Still, Russell pressed Everett.
Quoting an unchecked amount of $81,000 in total for the project, Russell then said the 11 years to complete the project "is a long time to have to go back and correct things."
"I don't understand why the plumbing was not checked before new concrete was poured and now we've busted new concrete using city labor to do it, why was that plumbing not checked before the concrete was poured on top."
The discussion came to a close with not much resolve.
"Mr. Russell, I'm not a contractor, I'm not a builder," Everett responded. "Y'all hired the contractors, y'all oversaw the contractor, not the CRA."