Antioch’s City Council recently OK’d a move to pool money to pay for a code enforcement officer, who would address matters of public health and safety, and help enforce laws aimed at reducing blight. Right now, the city can handle only extreme and hazardous cases. The hiring process for a new officer will take roughly two to three months.
Deputy Director of Community Development Ryan Graham originally noted that the city’s human resources department felt it would be best to wait until the end of the holiday season to put out a job ad, but city leaders urged Graham to make a hire as soon as possible.
“To simply wait until the optimum time, that fires me up a little bit, so we need to really rethink that process,” City Councilman Brian Kalinowski said. “The heavy lifting for the posting of the position has been done.”
To pay for the officer, Antioch will use cash from a variety of sources. The city will use $40,000 from its solid waste fund, $80,000 from the abandoned vehicle fund and $51,000 from a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) that targets low-income areas of the city. Antioch leaders agreed to use part of a grant from GenOn Energy to pay for code enforcement.
The total cost for the officer – taking into account salary, benefits, equipment and overhead – will start at about $100 per hour. Council members feel that while it’s not the ideal measure, it’s a step in the right direction.
“We’re going to still be very limited, just by the number of people that we’re talking about doing the job,” said Councilman Gary Agopian. “That’s the reality, but we’ll have code enforcement in Antioch and we’ll have our foot in the door.”
Ever since code enforcement became a budgetary casualty, residents have been complaining about graffiti and the pileup of garbage in front of vacant properties. At various meetings, residents have expressed concern about Antioch’s reputation for blight, and how blight has decreased property values.
Agopian also suggested that the city look into engaging volunteers to help with code enforcement tasks, similar to how the Volunteers in Police Services program aids cops.
“I think there might be some creativity that can come to the table about ways that we can enhance services,” Agopian said. “I think the model is there, in terms of restricting what volunteers do, but we need assistance. There’s a lot of people in our community who want to help.”
Jen McVicker, a member of the community activism group Take Back Antioch, and the group’s leader on code enforcement, was elated to hear the news. Finding solutions to the problem has been one of Take Back Antioch’s major goals since its inception last year.
“I’m hoping that we’ll be able to grow the department as the city’s finances improve,” McVicker said. “We’d obviously like to see the department fully staffed again, but considering the economic climate right now, I know it’s not possible. It does show that the City Council understands that this is a very high priority and something that needs to happen sooner rather than later.”
Antioch’s code enforcement was nixed in 2009 as a way to help balance the budget. At one point before the recession, the city employed 11 officers in the fight against blight.