Newell lobbies for slum, blight policies

PARKERSBURG – Mayor Bob Newell pressed Parkersburg City Council committee members Tuesday to advance a pair of ordinances that are part of his offensive against slum and blight in the city.

An ordinance to create eight assistant fire inspector positions in the Parkersburg Fire Department and another to establish a vacant building registry with accompanying fees and fines both passed, but not without questions from committee members that at times left the mayor frustrated.

Asked about the duties of the positions, Newell said council had already been given job descriptions when the matter was discussed before. He noted the city has an ordinance on the books requiring all buildings, excluding residences, to be inspected twice annually, something that hasn’t happened in years.

“If we don’t want a contingent of well-trained, well-paid fire inspectors, then we ought to take the law off the books,” he said during a Finance Committee meeting Tuesday at the Municipal Building.

Later, he said that if council didn’t want to create the inspector positions or repeal the ordinance, his office would not take the blame if a building burned down that hadn’t been inspected for years.

“I’m going to make it very public that that liability falls on city council’s shoulders,” Newell said.

Newell’s plan to reduce slum and blight in the city calls for the fire department to take on additional inspection responsibilities to alleviate the burden from the code enforcement department.

Councilwoman Nancy Wilcox’s motion to amend the ordinance to create just four inspector positions died for lack of a second. She expressed concern the arrangement could lead to increased overtime, but Newell said having multiple inspectors on different shifts should prevent that.

The ordinance was referred by the committee to council on a 4-1 vote, with Wilcox opposed and Councilwoman Sharon Lynch participating by phone.

The Public Works Committee considered an ordinance that would register vacant properties with the city and charge owners $100 a month after the property was vacant for a year. The idea is to offset some of the city’s costs for dealing with vacant structures and provide an incentive for owners to do something with or sell the property, officials said.

The fee would not apply to homes being maintained and up for sale, Newell said.

Councilman John Kelly said he wants to see fees lowered, not new ones added.

“I just don’t want to see another fee in the city of Parkersburg,” he said.

Newell argued that thousands of taxpayer dollars are spent each year boarding up and cutting the lawns of structures ignored by absentee landlords.

“We might be able to lessen the fees if we don’t have to pay for these slugs,” he said.

The ordinance originally set the registry fee at $100 a year per month, contrary to the mayor’s intent. A vote to amend it passed 3-1, with Councilman Mike Reynolds absent. Kelly voted against it, and committee Chairman Roger Brown hesitated before voting yes.

On the vote to refer the ordinance to council, Kelly voted yes and Brown voted no.

Kelly said he felt the ordinance would pass anyway and he would discuss the ordinance further when it came before the full council.