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City to use Home Rule program to target blight

May. 12, 2013 @ 11:00 PM

HUNTINGTON -- Huntington officials are pursuing a new law under the Municipal Home Rule pilot program to eliminate blight.

The city will seek the ability under the pilot program to issue "on-the-spot" citations as part of its multi-pronged effort to clean up neighborhoods. Huntington already is in the middle of a comprehensive spring cleanup campaign, and City Council adopted an ordinance in March targeting household furniture on front porches and in yards. On July 1, the city will take a zero-tolerance policy to nuisance violations such as trash, junk storage, graffiti, weeds and tall grass and sidewalks in disrepair. City officials hope the on-the-spot citations will provide the muscle behind the initiative.

Huntington was one of the four original cities accepted into the home rule pilot program in 2008. City officials have used it to tear down dilapidated housing more quickly, collect delinquent fees and implement a 1 percent sales tax along with reductions in the business and occupation tax. The West Virginia Legislature approved a bill last month that extends the program through 2019.

Huntington now must give property owners a 10-day warning to clean up their messes before a citation can be issued. On-the-spot citations, however, would be treated much like a speeding ticket, Mayor Steve Williams told City Council members during a work session last week.

"If they remedy the situation between the time the citation is issued and their court date, the municipal judge will toss out the matter," Williams said.

The first reading of an ordinance authorizing Williams to submit an amended home rule plan to the state Municipal Home Rule Board is on the City Council agenda for this evening, May 13. The council also will discuss the first reading of an ordinance establishing on-the-spot citations.

Presuming the council approves the ordinances, city officials then will request to present its proposal to the Municipal Home Rule Board in early June.

In other business Monday, the council will vote on eight separate ordinances that are being amended to streamline the business licensing process. The changes in the ordinances will reduce the number of business licensing categories from 41 to five.

The change is part of an effort to make City Hall a friendlier place for business owners. In addition to streamlining licenses, City Council approved Mayor Steve Williams' proposal to hire a business services concierge next fiscal year to assist people when they come to City Hall.

Condensing dozens of categories into one general license and charging a uniform $20 annual fee will provide consistency to business owners and make the process easier to manage, city officials say. As a requirement of state law, Huntington will maintain different licenses for contractors, real estate, insurance agents and businesses whose profits come from beer, wine and liquor sales.

City Council meets at 7:30 p.m. in council chambers at City Hall, 800 5th Ave. The meeting also is televised live on public access channel 24 on the Comcast Cable system. Here's a look at other items on the agenda:

OLD MAIN CORRIDOR: Three more blocks of street improvements to 4th Avenue will be up for a vote or for discussion on Monday. The project, known as the Old Main Corridor, aims to provide a better link between Marshall University and downtown Huntington through improved lighting, new sidewalks, plantings and paved streets. The council will discuss an ordinance on first reading that authorizes a $345,301 contract with Hager Construction to complete a one-block section of the corridor between 12th and 13th streets. The work would be funded by federal grants.

The council also will vote on a resolution authorizing Williams to enter into a contract with the state Department of Transportation for the two-block section between 10th and 12th streets. The work will cost approximately $620,000 and also will be paid for with federal grants.

FAIRFIELD WEST REDEVELOPMENT: The council will discuss the first reading of an ordinance that rezones several properties in the Fairfield West neighborhood of Huntington from R-4 and R-5 residential to C-1 neighborhood commercial and property from R-2 and R-4 residence to R-5 residence. The petition is part of the city's proposed redevelopment plan for Fairfield West. The plan involves providing more modern public housing in the neighborhood and demolishing the Northcott Court property along the busy Hal Greer Boulevard corridor for commercial development.

City officials say the project will not only provide better living conditions to the residents of Northcott Court but also will redefine an area that has been plagued by crime and give a facelift to one of the main arteries into the downtown.

The rezoning petition was unanimously approved by the Planning Commission last week.

CDBG BUDGET: The council will vote on a resolution that sets the Community Development Block Grant budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year. The goal of the CDBG program, which comes through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, is to provide a suitable living environment and expand economic opportunities for low- and moderate-income neighborhoods. The city's annual allocation, however, has shrunk from $3 million to $1.6 million during the past decade. Next year's allocation represents a 5 percent reduction from this budget year.

In addition to providing funds for the city's two community centers and its housing demolition program, the CDBG budget includes $100,000 for construction of the Paul Ambrose Trail for Health; $20,000 for renovations to the Central City Market on 14th Street West; $10,000 for the Coalition for the Homeless to help pay for a beautification program in the downtown; and $5,000 for the Tri-State Literacy Council.

COPS GRANT: The council will vote on a resolution authorizing Williams to apply for a federal grant that would fund an additional five police officer positions for three years. The grant request totals $676,955 and requires a local match of $225,652. The grant requires the positions to be retained for at least one year after it ends.

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

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