Friday, October 30, 2015

The codes department decoded


At Columbia Borough Council's October Meeting of the Whole, Code Enforcement Officer/Supervisor Jeffrey Helm explained some of the workings of the codes department. Helm defined the purpose of a recent "courtesy notice" process - a reminder issued for a first time minor property issue to save clerical costs and time. He described it as more of a communication tool than an official notification. The form is a template containing a time-frame for corrections, which Helm claims residents appreciate, because it allows time for rectifying problems. He reported a 60-70% compliance rate, which he deemed "very successful." Council noted that the current ordinance may have to be changed to include the courtesy notice.

Councillor Kelly Murphy noted negative feedback about the borough's current rental registration program and asked Helm for an assessment. Helm characterized the program, which monitors 800 buildings, as "a monster," because it consumes clerical time, especially from May to September.  He added that although the third-party inspection process is not ideal, the system works overall.  Helm said he reads every report received from the 8-12 certified inspectors contracted by the borough, and for violations, a "notice of violation" letter is sent. If a property is not brought into compliance, the owner can lose his or her license.  Properties that meet code requirements are registered for a fee of $100 per building.

Helm reported that since July 31, 50 landlords with at least one property each are currently delinquent in completing the rental registration process due to lack of a deficiency-free inspection report. Although landlords have been issued 30-day notices, most of the properties are currently being occupied without a valid certificate of occupancy. Councillor Mary Barninger emphasized that 50 landlords' properties have been out of compliance for nearly 90 days - 60 days past the first 30-day notice. Helm blamed a bottleneck in the system, which he said is logistical rather than clerical. He cited as an example properties that are sold without notification. He also said inspectors sometimes cannot complete inspections due to occupants' personal possessions blocking windows, receptacles, and other areas. An inspection order contains a disclaimer that the inspector will not move anything. He said it is impossible to do a thorough investigation. Helm added that many municipalities do not have a rental registration program or certificate of occupancy requirement.

Councillor Murphy recommended that council review the current fee schedule, especially fees for non-compliance. "We seem to be very kind and generous," he said. "There are a lot of things we could be doing."



In response to a citizen comment, council noted that Columbia Borough currently does its own restaurant inspections. Council said it is considering transferring that responsibility to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, which would perform inspections at no cost to the borough. Currently, inspections are done at the borough's expense.

Council reiterated its plan to add a full-time codes position, the title of which is yet to be determined.

Council also announced the resignation of Thomas James Millhouse, whose employment as part-time code enforcement officer was approved on December 22, 2014.  Sources tell the Spy that Millhouse submitted a ten-page resignation letter outlining various concerns. The employment of Code Enforcement Officer Robert Osborne had been terminated previously, effective August 10, 2015.

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24 comments:

  1. courtesy notices...50 properties not in compliance....how can this happen? council needs to change this way of thinking and take this,town back and not give big bucks to the elites coming into town and quit throwing money at losing ventures such as the market house.

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    1. Hiring another full-time codes officer, as council wants, might help to break the logjam.

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    2. Um......excuse me but the market house is about the ONLY nonprofit that the borough DOESN'T throw money at. Do your fact checks before you open your mouth.

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    3. Perhaps the borough should also own the Historic Society's building, that way they could get some assistance with utilities and maintenance. The market has a far greater ability to generate income than many of the other non-profits. Maybe the money that the borough could save by turning over restaurant inspections to the state could go to a non-profit. Talk about throwing money!

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    4. Fact check vs. Fantasy:
      Over 16,000 thousand dollars is the proposed budget amount for the market in 2016. Water, gas, electric, phone, and pest control.

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    5. Did you bother to check this against the revenue listing for the Market House? The Trust is billed for all utilities associated with the Market House EVERY month and the bill is paid to the borough by the Trust EVERY month! Stop talking like such an idiot!!! Ask questions, don't assume.

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  2. Code department what a JOKE!!!!!!!!

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  3. With elections coming up, I will say I feel Murphy and Barninger seem to push against the poor job performance of codes and do show a desire to demand better performance. The rest just seem to accept the explanations offered with no real desire to take action. If my assessment is incorrect, please let me know. But I do think with more support those 2 would be willing to do what needs done.

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  4. Don't think Barninger is for getting rid of certain people in codes dept and if health inspections went to the state a certain fire company might not pass the inspection and be able to serve food. People are doing things for the benefit of their own agenda. People have been pushing for food inspection to go to the state & Barninger always has a reason why they haven't or always says it is being looked into. There is no cost to the boro so what is the hold up?

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    1. We don't know all the reasons behind this, but some things do need to change.

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  5. With elections coming up next week and some changes possibly to the Columbia Borough Council. Why is one person on the ballot (name withheld for protection) not being examined for two arrests in 2014 for Disorderly Conduct in East Hempfield and in 2015 for DUI in West Hempfield. Is this being a hush-hush inside the Chambers of Borough Hal..

    As a taxpayer in Columbia, I expect the best to be seated on behalf of the Columbia Borough Government to uphold our standards of living. This story needs to be told.

    Low Tide!

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    1. Well that's a lie nobody on the ballot was arrested twice in 2014 for disorderly conduct smh

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  6. "kind and generous" mister Murphy ?, really ?? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uAwyIad93-c

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    1. Councillor Murphy was referring to the fact that the borough has gone easy on delinquent landlords.

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  7. it's more like a carnival ! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VQ_Wqtnlv4U

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  8. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uNKyT_J7Eew

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  9. Really as dangerous a situation as food handling is to the public, the state shouldn't even allow local control. And shame on our council for putting the boros residents safety & health in peril. That is exactly what they are doing by allowing this Mickey Mouse of a codes dept to oversee these establishments.

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  10. 1. do NOT hire another code officer, especially full time. if you want to fix the dept. start all over
    2. IF 50 rental are NOT in compliance-registered, etc. SHUT EM DOWN. You have ALL the tolls needed. The Code dept will NEVER get any respect if it DOESN"T step up and do whats necessary. STOP PATRONIZING SOME LANDLORDS. STOP BABYSITTING. IT DOESN'T MATTER WHO IT IS....SHUT THEM DOWN. MOVE ALL TENANTS OUT WITHIN 24 TO 48 HRS. PERIOD.
    3. give the restaurant inspections to the state-WHERE IT BELONGS

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  11. the code dept has everything it needs to do what has to be done. unfortunately, the mgmt that runs that dept does NOT

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  12. you better think before you vote. $218,000.00 for highway equipment??? seriously...use the old equipment, theres NO need for anything new. this spending is out of control!
    as for code officer...NO. NO NO full time officer. ABSOLUTELY NOT.

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  13. how about using the $218,000.00 to fix the wretched roads in this town...we don't need any stinking equipment...and shame on anyone who lets someone serve food in unhealthy conditions, politics it's the same everywhere, they get elected and it's all about their needs and those of their family & friends, shame on anyone sitting on council for not standing up and saying something, or wait I do believe when they do the other council members throw rocks thru their window to intimidate them...it's happened before you know...FACT!

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