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City OKs outdoor cleanup ordinance

Cleanup code
Mar. 26, 2013 @ 12:03 AM

HUNTINGTON -- Huntington City Council took the first step Monday toward cleaning up the city through tougher code enforcement.

By a vote of 8-0 with three absences, council members approved an ordinance that prohibits residents from storing upholstered furniture, mattresses and any other items not intended for outdoor use on their porches or in their front yards.

The ordinance also prohibits building materials from being stored outdoors unless they are for a permitted project on the property. Penalties include fines of up to $500, up to 30 days in jail or both. The ordinance will take effect July 1.

The city will give residents an opportunity to get rid of junk and debris for free before the ordinance becomes law by placing trash bins in neighborhoods for two weeks at a time beginning April 3. The schedule has not been released yet.

"Our thought is that people will have ample opportunity to comply," Mayor Steve Williams said as he passed around photos of problem areas that city employees took earlier Monday.

The ordinance is just one part of Williams' multi-pronged approach to improving the quality of life in Huntington by strengthening code enforcement. The council also approved a resolution Monday that authorizes Williams to apply for a federal Justice Assistance Grant in the amount of $28,000 to hire a compliance officer. The position is proposed to fall under the Police Department, not the Division of Inspections and Compliance.

Williams also has indicated that he will seek the ability to issue on-the-spot citations through the Municipal Home Rule Pilot Program. Property owners now have a 10-day warning period to clean up their messes before they receive a citation. Charleston was granted the authority to issue on-the-spot citations as part of its home rule plan, and city officials there have reported that it has worked well.

"I didn't realize how bad this problem was until this ordinance came up," Councilman Scott Caserta said, noting that he counted seven couches and four reclining chairs on porches in an eight-block area while driving to City Hall on Monday.

Here's a look at other items that were approved or advanced during the meeting:

WORKERS' COMP: The council voted 8-0 to approve a resolution authorizing Finance Director Deron Runyon to enter into a promissory note for the city's workers' compensation letter of credit.

Huntington is self-insured and uses York Insurance Services as a third-party administrator. To remain self-insured, the West Virginia Insurance Commission requires the city to maintain a letter of credit, a surety bond or government bonds in an amount equal to the projected future costs of its workers' comp claims. The reserve guarantees that the city will be able to pay workers' comp claims even if its general fund runs into trouble.

Huntington is required to maintain a reserve of almost $5.4 million, but it had fallen about $1 million short of that amount for more than a year. The resolution authorizes a promissory note with First Sentry Bank for $1,050,092.

Williams said shoring up the reserve fund was one of his primary financial objectives upon taking office.

SKATE PARK: The council advanced to a second reading an ordinance authorizing a $65,250 contract with AECOM Technical Services of Richmond, Va., to develop a master plan for a skate park at Harris Riverfront Park. The skate park is proposed to be built on the west end of the park.

AECOM also has enlisted the services of Team Pain, a company that specializes in the construction of skate parks, to help with the project. There will be a series of public meetings this spring to gather ideas about the skate park.

Councilman Gary Bunn asked who will own the park once it's completed, who will manage and maintain it, whether the city will have liability insurance coverage for the park and how much liability insurance will cost. Those questions are expected to be addressed before the council votes on the contract at its April 8 meeting.

FLOODWALL CERTIFICATION: The council advanced to a second reading an ordinance that authorizes a $255,000 contract that is part of a three-phase process to ensure the floodwall is certified with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The certification is a requirement of FEMA as it updates flood insurance rate maps, Public Works Director David Hagley said. The three-phase process is expected to cost approximately $800,000.

REZONING: The council voted 8-0 to approve an ordinance that rezones property at 19 7th Ave. West from R-4 Residence to C-1 Neighborhood Commercial. The petitioner, Kroger Ltd. Partnership, will build a fueling station in the parking lot of its grocery store.

Follow H-D reporter Bryan Chambers on Facebook or Twitter @BryanChambersHD.

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