City officials have a new tool to use in cleaning up neglected properties, despite misgivings by several members of the Huntington Common Council.
The council, with Mayor Brooks Fetters casting the tie-breaking vote, approved an ordinance that will make it easier for the city to clean up properties whose owners have not responded to clean-up orders.
Currently, the city is required to send a certified letter to the owner of record and wait at least five days before sending a city crew out to mow high grass and remove weeds.
That section of the ordinance will remain in effect, but an amendment approved at the Aug. 14 council meeting will drop the requirement for the certified letter and five-day wait for the remainder of the calendar year if the owner does not respond to the first notice.
Instead, a "continuous abatement notice" will be posted at the property and city crews will cut down high grass and weeds without any fur-ther notice to the property owner.
In all cases, the cost of the mowing will be assessed to the property's owner of record - the person listed in official documents filed in the Huntington County recorder's office as the owner of the property.
Holding the owner of record responsible for the condition of the property didn't sit well with Councilman Jim Long, who argued that documents in the recorder's office are not always up to date. In addition, he said, it's the occupant - not the owner - of the property who should be held responsible for its upkeep.
"The people living in the house should be the first to get the citations, not the people who own it," Long said.
Councilman Greg Davis argued that the responsibility for homes in foreclosure should lie with the bank that foreclosed, not with the people who lost the house in a foreclosure.
City Attorney Mike Hartburg explained that the city is required by state law to notify the owners of record, not the tenants. The responsibility for filing documents reflecting transfer of ownership for a property lies with those involved in the transfer, he said.
Councilman Charles Chapman said the city's rules must be crafted to cover usual, not unusual, circumstances.
"I don't think we can craft an ordinance that can take into account every unfortunate eventual reality," Chapman said.
Davis, Long and Councilman Wayne Powell voted against the amendment, with Chap-man and fellow councilmen Jack Slusser and Joe Blomeke voting in favor. The absence of Council-man Paul Pike left the vote at a 3-3 tie, giving Fetters the opportunity to cast a favorable vote to allow adoption of the amendment.
In other business:
- Davis announced that a committee study-ing the possibility of establishing railroad quiet zone in the city will meet on Aug. 21 at 6:30 p.m. in the council chambers of the City Building.
- Council approved a $5,000 Main Street Huntington grant to Pizza Junction owner Barry Dettling to help pay for roof repairs at the restaurant building. Long, who along with Powell voted against approving the grant, said he wanted to see a report of Dettling's profits to determine if he was able to pay for the repairs without the help of a grant. Rose Wall, who coordinates the Main Street Huntington program, said a businesses's profitability has never been a factor in awarding the grants.
- Council approved the rezoning of two par-cels of land adjacent to Crown Hill Farm subdivision, on the north side of Huntington, from agricultural to low-density residential. The rezoning will allow for the development of fu-ture phases of the subdivision.
- Clerk-Treasurer Christi Scher gave council members a preview of the city's 2013 budget. The general fund budget, which receives the ma-jority of the revenue crom the city's property tax rate, is expected to increase by about $65,0000, she said.