The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

June 25, 2013

Conneaut Council approves housing inspection program

Star Beacon

CONNEAUT — City Council, at Monday's regular meeting, approved mandatory municipal inspections of homes and apartments before they are rented.

By a 6-1 vote, council adopted the occupancy permit program that includes the controversial inspection program. Proponents said the program is a step towards ensuring city residents have a safe, healthy habitat place to live.

"Poor people shouldn't have to live in squalor just because they can't afford housing," said Councilman Neil LaRusch, who championed the legislation, which was in its third and final reading.

Casting the lone "no" vote was Ward 2 Councilman Phil Garcia, who earlier this month said he believed enough city laws were in place to safeguard residents.

The program will require a $60 permit before a dwelling is occupied to ensure basic services are in place. City officials have repeatedly stressed the inspection will not be an all-encompassing examination. Permit-holders will be entitled to unlimited inspections during the course of a year, regardless of how many people come and go.

If a property is deemed in excellent shape, owners can go two years between permits. The permit is needed only when a unit is vacated and the owner plans to seek a replacement, officials have said.

Planning/Zoning Admini-strator Deanna Gates, who will conduct the inspections, has repeatedly said the duty won't be a burden.

Since the legislation was introduced in May, some landowners have protested the permit program as unnecessary and cumbersome, and concerned the compliance timetable will impede their repairs to shoddy buildings.

In other business, council tabled an ordinance in its second reading would authorize City Manager Tim Eggleston to seek proposals for residential trash hauling, a possible prelude to a one-hauler contract for the city that would include curbside recycling. Ward 1 Councilman Doug Hedrick, assigned the ordinance, said he hoped the action would launch dialog between the city and haulers to iron out an understanding.

"I believe in what the ordinance is trying to accomplish, but we may have been remiss in not giving haulers a chance to voice their concerns and show how the process can work," he said.

Hedrick also cautioned the ordinance will not be tabled for long.

Ward 4 Councilman Thomas Kozesky said the ordinance doesn't authorize Eggleston to enter into a contract, merely to explore options and get data.

"We don't have to accept any bids," he said. "It's just something to review."

Several people spoke out against the trash-hauling ordinance before the vote, saying the measure limited their freedom of choice.