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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