Code Enforcement an Issue Throughout Wilmington

Recently, a local rental property was featured in a story on WKRC in Cincinnati (click here to read). Some of the article came to no surprise to many in Wilmington. Those who live in and have been around the city, even on some of the main streets, have certainly noticed the deterioration of many local rental properties. One issue that struck me was the lack of enforcment. If WKRC could talk to the landlord, then why couldn’t the city get him to show up for court? I decided to further investigate John Blake (the landlord mentioned in the story) and a few other local landlords and their properties in Wilmington. Here is what I found, and how I think the city can improve their code enforcement in the future…

The problem…

John Blake and his wife Sarah Hapner are listed as the owner of several properties besides the one discussed in the article. Here are a few pictures of those properties

This is the house in question from the WKRC story on Grant Street
This is the house in question from the WKRC story on Grant Street
Charles Street rental home
Charles Street rental home
Locust and Spring St.
Locust and Spring St.
Locust and Spring St.
Locust and Spring St.

As you can see, these properties are an eyesore. Not only that, they violate several pieces of building code in the Wilmington Municipal Code, including (emphasis mine):

  • 1709.03   (b)   Protective Treatment.  All exterior surfaces, including but not limited to, doors, door and window frames, cornices, porches and trim, shall be maintained in good condition. Exterior wood surfaces, other than decay-resistant woods, shall be protected from the elements and decay by painting or other protective covering or treatment. Peeling, flaking and chipped paint shall be eliminated and surfaces repainted. All siding and masonry joints as well as those between the building envelope and the perimeter of windows, doors, and skylights shall be maintained weather resistant and water tight.
  • 1709.03    (f)   Exterior Walls.  All exterior walls shall be free from holes, breaks, loose or rotting materials; and maintained weatherproof and properly surface coated where required to prevent deterioration.

Unfortunately, these are not the only rental properties that are suffering due to a lack of code enforcement. There are two more examples that I have noticed (as have many Wilmington residents). The first two pictures are from one property on Wood St., and actually belongs to Kathryn Hapner. She is a former Wilmington Law Director and sister of Sarah Hapner, mentioned above. The second property shown is owned by Renaissance Men Properties, which is listed as an LLC with Alan Ledford and Grant Peelle as principals.

DSC_0447  DSC_0445DSC_0477DSC_0476

Again, we see many code violations in both places. Ms. Hapner was law director and is still a practicing lawyer, so one would assume that she is aware of the law. In the second case, which is an unrepaired roof after a fire, we can see the signs of negligent property owners dragging their feet, which have allowed parts of the building to end up almost on the Luther Warren Peace Path. This was not a recent fire by any standards and has a negative effect on the aesthetics of the trail.

I pursued this story because it is an important issue for Wilmington to consider. We should be sad to see our city on regional news for a lack of code enforcement by the city, and it is clear that Mr. Blake is not the only one. We have many local landlords that do not keep their buildings up to code, and this is something we must address as a community.

What can be done?

At the last City Council Judicial Committee meeting, Wilmington City Service and Safety Director Brian Shidaker said that there is no money allocated in the budget for code enforcement. Therefore, the only time issues like this are investigated is through a citizen’s complaint, and then only by the police department. This process often causes the ire of city residents, as they feel frustrated when their pleas for enforcement go unresolved. In the case mentioned at the beginning of this post, that led to a resident going to a Cincinnati news organization for answers.

There can be a solution, but it will have to involve city and county government working together. It is undeniable that blighted properties could lead to potential property tax losses for the county. If we continue down a road of allowing owners to not care for properties, it will likely become more difficult for homeowners to find potential customers, thus leading to a drop in prices. Additionally, many of these homes pose a health and safety risk to residents. Broken windows leading to unstable home temperatures and allowing weather in, mold, poor bathroom conditions, and issues with parts of buildings or retention walls coming on to public property could present real health and safety issues.

So, I believe that the county needs to step in and use some of the money from the sale of Clinton Memorial Hospital to work with the City of Wilmington (and other municipalities in the county, if necessary) to enforce building codes. Much of the money is earmarked for health and safety, which safe and sanitary living conditions falls under. Additionally, as I pointed out, Clinton County has a vested financial interest in keeping our neighborhoods clean, safe, and attractive for potential homebuyers. This is something we, as a community, should get behind in order to improve the quality of life for everyone.

Clinton County Election Review

A quick review of the 2016 Primary Election Results for Clinton County

County Commissioner-Open Seat

Winner: Brenda Woods

Mrs. Woods ended up winning with almost one-third of the vote, with Mike McCarty and Terry Habermehl finishing second and third, respectively. Woods ran an impressive campaign, with well-designed signage and campaign literature. Additionally, she received broad support from community leaders, including current Commissioner Mike Curry and President of Wilmington City Council Randy Riley. Woods performed well in precincts throughout the county, including some in areas that figured to be strongholds for other candidates. She will bring years of experience in both county and city government to her new post.

 

County Commissioner-Kerry Steed’s seat

Winner: Kerry Steed, Incumbent

Steed won a very close race with Fife. Steed ran a strong campaign with good social media presence and advertising. Fife kept this race close, despite an apparent lack of campaigning beyond his statements to the Wilmington News Journal and his participation in the candidate forums. Steed will have to get by Dean Feldmeyer in the General Election, where he will need to answer questions about transparency with the usage of the hospital money.

Republican Presidential Primary

 

CC Winner: Trump
Ohio Winner: Kasich

Neither result is really surprising. Trump was strong in a place that has seen difficult financial times and is overwhelmingly white, doing particularly well outside of the city of Wilmington. Kasich did take the state, however, slowing the apparent Trump juggernaut.

Democratic Presidential Primary

CC Winner: Sanders
Ohio Winner: Clinton

Clinton winning Ohio after her loss in Michigan wasn’t a surprise, but it was certainly a disappointment to those who still think Bernie Sanders has a chance of winning the Democratic Primary. Sanders winning Clinton County, however, was interesting to me at first glance. I do wonder if it has to do with the strong pacifist Quaker community here and Mr. Sanders’ history of strongly pacifist rhetoric. Either way, Ohio was part of a fantastic night for Clinton, and it would be a shock for her to not get the nomination at this point.

 

2016 Primary Preview for Clinton County

With the Ohio primary elections quickly approaching, here is a quick preview of some select races that have been closely followed in Clinton County.

County Commissioner-Open Seat

Running: Greg Grove, Terry Habermehl, Scott Holmer, Mike McCarty, and Brenda Woods

This race has been closely followed by many in the county, in part because of the number of people running and their ties across the county. All five candidates have been pushing hard throughout the county and attempting to separate their message from the message of their competitors. Driving through the county, you can see signs for all five candidates everywhere. I believe that there will be a geographic slant to this race, with certain candidates winning areas where they either live or work due to name recognition. Many are championing Mrs. Woods and Mr. Habermehl for their experience in government, while the others have been touted for their records in business or elsewhere. This race will likely come down to who voters believe has the best plans for the two main issues that have defined this race: the sales tax rolloff and the “hospital money.”

County Commissioner-Kerry Steed’s seat

Running: James Fife and Kerry Steed

Support for these two men has been fairly split. Steed is running heavily off of his experience as a commissioner, saying that he stuck to his campaign promises from the 2012 election. Mr. Fife has said that he will bring his experience working for a state agency (ODOT) as well as his experience as a Union Township Trustee to work on cost-saving measures. It appears that this race will be very close on election day, much like the other race.

Republican Presidential Primary

Running: John Kasich, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Donald J. Trump

In what has quickly devolved into a race that some speculate may drastically change the GOP, four candidates have stayed in until Ohio (from over a dozen). Kasich, the current governor of Ohio, is certainly the biggest challenger to Trump’s success. He is currently polling ahead of or tied with Trump in Ohio, perhaps in part to Mr. Rubio’s campaign encouraging voters to support Kasich as the best chance to stop Trump in this winner-take-all state.

Clinton County’s demographics point to Trump potentially taking the county because of the heavy influence of “blue-collar” jobs and large population of Evangelical Christians. Kasich’s appearances in Wilmington should help him, and his balancing of the budget in Ohio (albeit controversially) will appeal to the pragmatic side of Clinton County voters. The other candidates running will certainly have their supporters in Clinton County, but it is almost certainly a race between Kasich and Trump.

Democratic Presidential Primary

Running: Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders

The Democratic primary has had fewer candidates and fewer direct jabs between the candidate, but the debates have not been lacking in substance and the campaign speeches have still been passionate. So what does this mean for Ohio and Clinton County? Mrs. Clinton is leading Sanders in polling, leading anywhere from single digits through twenty-five points. Sanders could have a decent showing in the county due to his strength among working-class, white voters (with whom Mrs. Clinton did very well in 2008). This race is difficult to predict for the county, due to many Democrats choosing instead to vote in the Republican primary because of the commissioner’s race.

 

Make sure to get out and vote on Tuesday, no matter what party. For information about where you should vote (and to make sure you are registered), check out the Clinton County Board of Elections website.

Conversation with the Candidate-Terry Habermehl

A couple of days ago, I sat down with current County Auditor and commissioner candidate Terry Habermehl for a conversation about the race and his ideas for Clinton County. Mr. Habermehl is running against Scott Holmer, Brenda Woods, Mike McCarty, and Greg Grove in the Republican Primary.

On the senior services levy…

After the forum at the senior center, senior-specific issues have been on the candidates mind. Mr. Habermehl, having just come off of a talk at the senior center, was no different. Habermehl countered some of the information that has been discussed about the contract with the Council on Aging. While some have talked about the amount of money spent on administration of the levy that is paid to the CoA, he has said that their administrative costs may well be lower than if the county tried to administer the grant themselves. He said that when he first came on as county auditor a few years ago, there were discussions between Job and Family Services and the county about the grant being locally administered(Community Action had also inquired about this). According to Habermehl, they decided that there would be too many new positions that would need to be created in order to fulfill the expertise that would be needed to administer such a levy.

However, Habermehl did say that there were some things he would like to see done regarding the levy. He said that there is not enough input from seniors right now that is shared with the Council on Aging, which could include independent surveys. Additionally, he said that he would like to keep the administration local if it were a feasible option, which would need to be researched more.

On the 0.5% sales tax rolloff

Habermehl said that he is cautiously optimistic about the possibility of a sales tax rolloff. He believes that the rolloff should happen because it was passed as a temporary tax to begin with, and from the data from the last few years it would be fiscally acceptable. Mr. Habermehl added that the county has actually seen a rise in sales tax revenue over the last few years, with each of the last 3 years showing an increase from the previous year. According to Habermehl, as commissioner, his focus would be to continually explore long-term reports for revenue and expenditures to work to avoid re-adding the sales tax.

On moving from auditor to commissioner…

One of the questions I had for Mr. Habermehl was what inspired him to run for commissioner after spending the last several years as auditor. He said that he desires to work more closely with the people of Clinton County, which is not afforded to him as often in his role as auditor. He added that as auditor his role is providing information, but that in the commissioner’s role he could help people solve problems.

On the “hospital money”…

As with every candidate, the money from the sale of Clinton Memorial Hospital is an important consideration for Habermehl in the campaign. In his opinion, long-term planning is the most vital piece for using that money. He believes that money should be spent on infrastructure where possible, especially where it increases productivity in county offices and helps save money. With much of the rest of rest of the money, Mr. Habermehl believes that a legacy fund through the Clinton County Foundation should award grants with the interest earned on the money.

On efficiency in county government…

One of Habermehl’s passions for county government is increasing efficiency and collective action among the individual departments in the county. One of his interests is increasing the information technology infrastructure of the county government, which he claims is inadequate right now. There is currently no full-time IT person for the county, and most individual departments are responsible for their technology needs. Habermehl believes that this is an area where the government could be more efficient and save money, because departments would be purchasing items and services together rather than separately and could therefore increase their bargaining power.

On the possibility of a community center…

Mr. Habermehl said that one question that is not answered in specifics is “what is the definition of a community center?” He stated that this needs to be answered before anyone moves forward with it, because the services it provides will affect the support of it. One thing Habermehl said he may explore is the possibility of putting it to a vote, perhaps with the additional piece of a levy for operating costs. The operating costs, he said, were his biggest concerns in the long run.

 

This was another interesting conversation with a commissioner candidate. Thank you for reading, and I hope to talk to more candidates before the primary on March 15th.

EDITORIAL: The Time for Action is Now in Wilmington City Council

As I wrote last Monday, Wilmington is experiencing serious issues with it’s budget situation. The city budget for 2016 showed a deficit of $1.3 million, and the agreement between council seemed to be that they needed to act soon. This, after a November city council meeting where council said that they would continue the discussion and that they recognized how quickly it needed to happen.

We are now at the beginning of March. Today, March 2nd, the Finance Committee of council had just their second meeting of the year from my understanding. I decided to go, to see if the members of the Finance Committee were going to follow through with their promise to consider options.

The budget discussion started out with Mayor John Stanforth saying that he would be putting a plan for cuts to balance the budget. He then asked for permission from Auditor David Hollingsworth to work with Deputy Auditor Mary Kay Vance on budget issues. I am not sure why this conversation hasn’t happened yet, but Hollingsworth said that was fine, as he would not be available much until after tax season. Stanforth went on to say that the city was broke, and Hollingsworth agreed.

Councilwoman Kelsey Swindler subsequently brought the issue of putting a tax on the ballot–the same discussion that council was having last year, but that nobody has discussed this year. Finance Committee Chair Mark McKay said that he wanted to give the mayor time to show how the cuts would look before they moved on the tax issue. Swindler responded that these needed to be in motion at the same time. McKay subsequently said that he needs more info, like a public forum where the public could decide whether council should put forth a property tax levy or an earnings tax on the ballot. I immediately posed the question, “Isn’t the tax the public forum?” Councilwoman Milburn then said she wanted to learn more about the numbers for each tax. Swindler and McKay both said that they were leaning towards an earnings tax, partially because they believe it to be more fair. Mr. McKay eventually added that he has heard some people saying it is time to put it on the ballot. The committee asked Clerk of Council Marian Miller to provide them with estimated revenue from the potential taxes for discussion at their next meeting.

During the meeting, Councilman McKay continued to show that he is not willing to make the tough decisions when it counts. He was perfectly willing to allow the tax to be debated in public before the committee and/or council moved forward on it. As the meeting went on, he backed off several times as soon as he was challenged. Mrs. Milburn ran on a no tax increase platform, so it is difficult to tell how she truly feels about the tax increase. She seems to have decided it is acceptable to put the tax to voters.

I left the meeting wondering-if Mr. McKay and Mrs. Milburn had not been questioned on their reluctance to put a tax increase on the ballot, what would have been accomplished? Would we all be waiting for the mayor’s office to come up with potential budget cuts so the committee can pour over them? Time is of the essence on an issue like this. It would be a great disappointment if council missed a chance to get it on the November ballot because of feet-dragging. At the end of the meeting, Mr. McKay said that “we’ll try to keep Kelsey happy.” Hopefully, this is not the only impetus for action in the future.