Committee Says Staffing Is Main Issue At Code Office

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After receiving numerous complaints about city code enforcement, Athens City Council created an ad-hoc committee last year to examine some of those issues.

On Monday, the committee shared its recommendations.

Ed Baum, one of the committee members, touched on highlights of the group’s report. The group looked at several concerns in the city such as trash and recycling, parking, graffiti and rental inspections.

Baum said that staffing is a major concern at the code enforcement office, which currently has one full-time employee and one part-time employee.

He suggested that the city bring the part-time employee on full-time and fill a third vacant position within the department.

“You either have to take things off the plate or add personnel,” said ad-hoc committee member Alan McMillan.

To increase staffing, the department would have to increase its revenue.

One way to do that would be to increase fees, such as rental housing inspections.

Councilwoman Michele Papai, who also served on the ad-hoc committee, said that increasing the fee by $10 would bring in an additional $50,000 in revenue for the department.

The committee also suggested that rental inspections happen every 12 months.

Baum said the rentals used to be inspected every 24 months, but now the inspections are every 14 months.

With rental turnover happening every year, he said the more frequent inspections would make sense.

Councilman Kent Butler suggested that it may be time to look at a less popular option — raising income taxes — to generate more revenue.

“It’s not a popular topic to bring up in the public forum, which is the potential need to raise taxes. We haven’t had an income tax raise since the 1980s,” Butler said.

One of the main topics discussed Monday evening was litter and the placement of trash cans. Earlier in the meeting, the Westside Community Association’s Beautification Committee suggested that Council change the code to state that trash cans should be stored out of sight. Currently the code states that trash cans must be behind the front edge of the home — which is still visible on some properties.

Councilwoman Chris Fahl said that the city would review the committee’s recommendations and prioritize them.

“Our aim has to be to prioritize,” she said. “We can’t institute 50 changes and expect the code enforcement to be able to do it and the public to be educated about it all at the same time.”

“It’s a big job. There are a lot of moving parts,” said Councilman Steve Patterson.

Baum said the question that needs to be asked is, “What can we do to make the city look better, work better and the people in it act better?”