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February 22, 2014

FUTURE DOESN'T LOOK BLIGHT: City credits proactive approach, funding for increased codes results

NEW ALBANY — The number of stressed properties and blighted structures addressed in New Albany over the past two years has risen sharply, according to numbers provided by Mayor Jeff Gahan’s administration.

New Albany Building Commissioner David Brewer reported that in 2012 and 2013, the city ordered 240 contract cleanups and boarded and secured 126 vacant and troubled properties. During the two previous years, the city funded 33 contract cleanups and secured only 21 properties, according to Brewer, who was hired as building commissioner in 2009.

Brewer doesn’t believe more properties are falling into disrepair, but instead touts a more proactive approach by the administration for the increase in codes enforcement.

“The underlining thing here is, it’s about public safety and quality of life,” he said.

There’s also been a bump in funding. The New Albany City Council appropriated an additional $150,000 last year for the unsafe building fund. Combined with funds already budgeted for 2014, the building commissioner’s department has about $270,000 at its disposal to address depressed properties and structures in the city.

Now included in the coffers is $20,000 earmarked for preserving troubled historic structures. While the commissioner has the authority to use the money to secure and weatherize historic and older buildings, the funds don’t have to necessarily be used in preservation districts.

“That’s a very unique aspect of the unsafe building fund,” Brewer said.

The administration’s strategy allows Brewer to decide if blighted structures can be restored or should be demolished.

“He has the latitude to make those kind of decisions,” Gahan said. “Internally, we’ve spent a lot of time talking about the best way to deal with specific properties, as well as an overall plan, and I think [Brewer] is doing a really good job on being out in front on some of the properties that really need attention.”

Over the past two years, the city has cut grass and weeds at 1,136 properties, and many of those sites multiple times, Brewer said. The city’s ordinance poses a 9-inch regulation on grass, and Brewer said lots that are vacated and not addressed grow quickly during the spring and summer.

In 2012 and 2013, the building commissioner’s office filed a total of $579,595 in liens, according to Brewer. Liens were filed for any service the city rendered on a blighted property, from cutting grass to razing a structure.

As of Wednesday, the city had recouped $155,284 in liens over the past two years. In 2010 and 2011, New Albany collected about $46,000 in liens, Brewer said.

The money recovered is ultimately returned to the city and included in the annual budget, he continued.

Brewer credited the city council for partnering with the administration to bolster the building department. The number of employees in the office has almost doubled over the past three years, with code enforcement coming under the direction of the building commissioner. There are now four full-time workers in the department, and a seasonal employee will come on board during the summer to help with grass and weed removal.

Beyond regular employees, the city also hires contractors for emergency projects to secure and board-up structures that are deemed a public safety threat.

“There’s no question we’ve shifted resources and added resources to be more proactive in helping to restore some of these properties that are in need of help in the way of cleaning and demolition,” Gahan said.

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REPORT A CODE PROBLEM

• To report an unsafe structure or a codes violation in New Albany, call 812-948-5309.

 

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