Since the code enforcement department was essentially cut in September of 2009 as a way to help keep the city fiscally afloat, Deputy Director of Community Development Ryan Graham has been flooded with calls of code infractions. Graham wears many hats, including heading up the code enforcement staff of zero, handling only the most urgent cases.
As Graham pointed out in a presentation to the Antioch City Council on Tuesday night, two years ago the department employed three administrators and deployed six officers on the streets.
“I do what I can when I can,” Graham said. “The emergency cases are getting handled, but the day-to-day code enforcement is not, at this point.”
Thanks to a one-time $1 million payment from Allied Waste (part of their recent contract extension), rosier income projections and increased austerity measures, Antioch faces a deficit spending amount of only $365,849 for the 2011-12 fiscal year, compared to the previous projection of $696,204 – although that figure will rise to about $1.9 million in the 2012-13 fiscal year.
City officials noted that while things are looking better for now, they should find ways to bring back vital services that were cut – namely code enforcement. The staff report from Tuesday’s meeting states that the financial projections included roughly $75,000 for unbudgeted maintenance, much of which is due to vandalism.
“Not doing the code enforcement in the city, to me, is as egregious as not filling potholes,” Councilman Gary Agopian said. “We have to do something, but the level is certainly going to be very ramped down compared to what we had before.”
Council members were on board with the idea, and City Manager Jim Jakel said they would hold a planning session this summer to figure out where to go from here, noting that start-up expenditures for equipment and vehicles would be necessary. Agopian agreed that when and if the city can bring back some form of code enforcement, it will need to be focused on a narrow range of cases to prevent stretching the officer too thin.
Councilman Brian Kalinowski asked about using Community Development Block Grants, but Jakel replied that such money could be used only to enhance city operations, not fund a basic function.
“I recognize that we’re never going to be at the point that we were before for many, many years, but I think that we have a responsibility to do some of it,” Kalinowski said. “We really can’t task the 36-hour employee who’s running four or five departments to do emergency cases and then all the other stuff.”
Graham’s presentation included images of shoddily-built apartments and houses trashed by hoarders – cases he said are the most time-consuming. Code enforcement usually fields calls about vacant homes, weeds, graffiti, street vendors and land-use violations, among many other problems. Right now, the fire department handles problems regarding weed abatement.
Since no officers are currently on staff to handle minor cases of code violation, Graham usually offers small claims court as an option for those seeking resolutions. He said the present system for handling extreme violators has been a model for other cities, but putting enforcement personnel on the street to handle more cases would go a long way toward cleaning up blight.