Antioch’s City Council will make a final decision on Oct. 25, but discussion at Tuesday night’s meeting seemed to be on track with what many residents have been clamoring for.
If approved at next month’s meeting, the city will use money from the solid waste fund ($40,000), the abandoned vehicle fund ($80,000) and $51,000 in Community Development block grants (CDBG) to pay for a code enforcement officer. The city could also use a portion of grant money that usually goes toward recreation to help pay for code enforcement.
However, Deputy Director of Community Development Ryan Graham pointed out that the CDBG money can only be used in low-income areas of Antioch. Because of this stipulation, Antioch officials are planning to limit code enforcement activities to the northwest sector of the city at the outset.
“I think we need to start this sooner rather than later,” Mayor Jim Davis said.
Antioch leaders can fill the position in-house, hire a private code enforcement firm, or contract services with the county – a notion at which Councilman Brian Kalinowski bristled when he heard the $100 per hour price tag for salary and benefits that would come with that third option.
The council decided that the best option for the city and its taxpayers would be to hire someone in-house once the position has been OK’d. Antioch Finance Director Dawn Merchant estimated that an entry-level code enforcement officer hired by the city would cost between $41.52 and $43.28 per hour, including salary and benefits. Graham noted that the hiring and training process would take roughly 60 to 90 days.
“For the long-term sustainability of this program … I say we get it right from day one,” Kalinowski said. “I’m not going to support code enforcement at $100 an hour where someone else is making money off our business.”
The lack of code enforcement has been a major complaint of Antioch residents since it was a casualty of budget cuts in 2009. Before the recession, Antioch employed a code-enforcement staff of 11. Graham noted that right now there is one employee who can be moved around to handle emergencies.
The city currently issues a series of citations and fines for repeated negligence before handing cases over to the county Superior Court, which serves a warrant to the resident demanding that a cleanup be performed.
“The continued economic downturn,” Graham said, “coupled with the devastating effect of home foreclosures and their negative impact on neighborhoods and an unstaffed code enforcement division seems to have come together in a perfect storm of circumstances.”
Beverly Knight, a 34-year resident of the city and member of the community activism group Take Back Antioch, recently created an emotional video showing examples of blight in her community: shopping carts and trash strewn about, vacant buildings, graffiti and yards in severe disrepair.
After the video was posted to the group’s Facebook page, several members posted favorable comments.
Take Back Antioch founder Brittney Gougeon felt that the discussion City Council held on Tuesday was positive and a step in the right direction. Helping to restore code enforcement has been one of the group’s major goals since its inception in late 2010.
“What they did was very responsible and it was in the interest of the citizens and people who have brought their concerns forward over the last six to seven months,” Gougeon said. “I think it will be sufficient for now, and we can revisit this situation in the future.”