by Tony E. Rutherford, News Editor
Council Passes "Surplus" Placement; Discusses Proposed Tenant Nuicance Ordinance

Huntington City Council has approved a resolution that places the city's 2016-2017 fiscal year ending $734,523.14 into the city's rainy day reserve fund as contemplated at the work session. After an apparent misunderstanding, council voted unanimously to allocate $11,756 from it's share of Coal Severance Funds to the Big Sandy Superstore Arena,  which has been the past precedent .

Council members at first misunderstood the source of these funds.

The Coal Severance Tax comes from production of coal. Coal mining operations pay the tax to the state treasurer's office which then allocates portions of the tax to each county in West Virginia. The amount fluctuates due to annual tonnage variations. Huntington has generally allocated these funds as part of its subsidy for the Big Sandy Superstore Arena.

On Monday, the initial resolution failed as some council members did not understand city manage Cathy Burns explanation, believing instead that the monies came from residential taxes.

Despite earlier explanations, Charlie McComas, Tom McGuffin, Rebecca Thacker, Carol Polan, Mike Shockley and Tonia Page voted against the BSSA allocation causing t to fail.

The caution came after council members had approved the cut backs in January when the city faced a possible five million dollar shortfall and after the previous council passed an increase in fees for the Huntington Sanitary Board. Complaints had flowed to members concerning alleged unjust water turn offs for past due bills.

Council members were told they have no jurisdiction over the sanitary fees. The state Public Service Commission ruled against a city resident in the one formal complaint against HSB billing and cut off procedures.  In addition, last week the WQB approved the hiring of Brian Bracey, as the executive director, of the HSB, Stormwater Utility and floodwall operations. 

They have also received complaints from constituents regarding the January cutbacks which laid off firefighters and police officers.

Once the misunderstanding had been clarified, council unanimously approved the BSSA allocation for the Coal Severance funds.

Earlier, council members heard first reading of the ordinance that seeks to curtail various drug and prostitution offenses through an ordinance that fines landlords for not evicting so-called problem  tenants of properties who accumulate two or more illegal (felony) incident/convictions in a one year period. If the offending tenant  is not evicted within 30 days, the landlord could be fined between $100 to $500 a day.

It did not go without opposition.

Questions had already arisen that the ordinance such as whether under HUD's Fair Housing Act, the action would amount to discrimination against those with a substance abuse disability.

City Attorney Scott Damron had previously opined that the ordinance covers "illegal activity" which is not covered under the Fair Housing Act.

Still, Eli Baumwell, American Civil Liberties Union WV Policy Director, suggested that the ordinance effectively converts addiction and the treatment thereof  to a "blight," which amounts to a  "dressed up version of 'not in my backyard' policy.

"This may seem like a way to clean up properties that are routinely used for illegal activities, but it will have unintended consequences. Under the ordinance, families and friends who are trying to help out someone struggling with addiction could be evicted, even if they aren't part of or condoning the illegal activity. There are already adequate nuisance laws on the books to deal with problem properties without going down this dangerous path," Baumwell said.

The ordinance is designed to target prostitution,  illegal gambling, illegal possession of drugs,   storage, delivery of or trafficking in controlled substances or other illegal activities that are punishable by a minimum of one year in prison.

Council approved an amendment offered by Tina Brooks that requires police to personally inform landlords of each violation or notify them via certified mail.

Sponsor Alex Vence , a landlord and real estate developer, stressed the proposal applies to "drug houses" and in particular drug dealers. Police Chief Joe Ciccarelli emphasized the proposal is intended as a "tool" in the city's quiver to bring unresponsive land holder's into compliance.

Public comment on the proposal will be allowed at the second reading which will be at the next council meeting.

In other business, council approved other items on its agenda. The Finance Committee has recommended forwarding the ratified Huntington Fire Department collective bargaining agreement to the full council.

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PREVIOUS STORIES AND AGENDAS


 

Huntington City Council meets at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 28 in council chambers at City Hall where they will consider allocation of the $734,523.14   2016-2017 fiscal year surplus to a rainy day fund and first reading of an ordinance that would label certain rental tenants as a "nuisance."

In addition, council's work begins at 5 p.m. with the first of four committee meetings  --- the Solid Waste Committee, the Public Safety Committee (5:15 p.m.), Public Works Committee (5:30 p.m.), and Finance Committee at 6 p.m.

At the work session last week Mayor Steve Williams announced surplus which came from belt tightening and neither fee or tax increases. The city in January laid off 24 employees including 17 in the police department,  seven from the Huntington Fire Department, and cancelled its one million dollar Spring paving.

Council will consider a resolution placing the surplus in its reserve funds. The reserve funds include the $2.6 million dollar Rainy Day allocation, $1.5 million in cash reserves for workman's comp and insurance bonding requirements as the city is self insured.

The city holds $578,000 for closure of the Dietz Hollow Landfill which has been under a state order for closure as it does not have proper padding for its ground water contaminants.  The landfill has monitors for leachate which is a liquid that passes through a landfill and has extracted dissolved and suspended matter from it. The seepage is treated then sent to the waste treatment plant for eventual disposal in the Ohio River.

The Public Safety and Finance Committee will discuss the recently ratified contract by Local 289 of the Huntington Professional Firefighters Association (IAFF). The HFD recently obtained a grant to assist with hiring back the seven rookies laid off.

NUISANCE TENANT

Council will discuss the proposed nuisance tenant ordinance which would after two strikes hold landlord's responsible for certain crimes by tenants. It has some similarity to the nuisance ordinance already on the books.

Under the proposal, tenants properties involved in two or more illegal incidents over a year face a fine unless the landlord evicts offending tenants. The ordinance is designed to target prostitution,  illegal gambling, illegal possession of drugs,   storage, delivery of or trafficking in controlled substances or other illegal activities that are punishable a minimum of one year in prison.

The police already notify landlords in person or by mail concerning tenants involved in illegal drug activity. Councilwoman Tina Brooks indicated that she will offer an amendment tonight requiring that the owner be told in person or by certified mail. This would prevent a surprise if a second violation occurs and the city demands that the tenant be evicted.

If not evicted, the landlord then faces a fine of between $100 and $500 for each day the nuisance is in place.

The Full agenda can be found at:

http://www.huntingtonnews.net/151192