The City of Ravenswood is stepping up enforcement of code violations pertaining public nuisances.
In 2017, the city hired a part-time code-enforcement officer. Recently, Ravenswood received a $10,000 grant to help fund the officer’s salary and pay for some equipment, Mayor Josh Miller said.
“That’s money that won’t have to come out of the city’s general fund,” he said.
Over the last several months, the city has issued 14 notices of violations under the nuisance code. Code enforcement issued 22 notices of high-grass violations just this past summer. The municipal court also has handed down roughly half a dozen orders requiring compliance city code regarding public nuisances.
Miller said these measures are not an effort by the city to raise money through fines and fees. Most of the time, the issues get resolved once property owners receive word of a problem.
“It’s simply about having people clean up their property so it does not impact their neighbors. When we get complaints, it’s our job to investigate them,” he said.
Cleaning up Ravenswood was a major concern Miller heard when he was running for office.
“I tried to knock on every door in Ravenswood that I could. One of the most common themes I heard, outside of infrastructure, was code enforcement and the need to clean up the town. People were very adamant about that,” he said.
Councilman Steve Tucker agreed that code enforcement is an issue that seems to be on the mind of many city residents.
“We have a lot of older buildings, older homes. That’s a concern to everybody who lives in Ravenswood, or it should be. Everybody thinks council mayor should do something. That’s been easier said than done when you take into account the tools and laws we have,” Tucker said.
It would help if the West Virginia Legislature would reopen the Municipal Home Rule Pilot Program, Tucker said. The program was created in 2007, allowing Huntington, Charleston, Wheeling and Bridgeport to enact laws, ordinances, and policies without regard for state law, with some restrictions. Later, it expanded to 34 municipalities. Now, the pilot program is set to end July 1.
Home rule gives local governments flexibility to develop new solutions to problems such as aging infrastructure, police and fire pensions, and code enforcement. For example, it could allow code enforcement officers to issue on-site citations for ordinance violations.
A bill to make the program permanent was passed in the Senate, but a similar bill was tabled by the House of Delegates. Tucker said he hopes the Legislature can make some headway on the program.
“It would give us some real enforcement tools when people won’t cooperate and do the right thing. I don’t think there’s any real meaningful objection to reopening it, so it doesn’t appear to be as much of a lack of consensus as it is a lack of ability,” Tucker said.
Miller said the city worked with the West Virginia University Law Clinic to updates code enforcement ordinances. The city’s code of ordinances can be read at cityofravenswood.com. The ordinance covers a myriad of issues, everything from trash and standing water to junked vehicles.
The city hopes to expand its focus to included dilapidated structures in the next two years, Miller said.
“What happens is, a lot of times, buildings just sit there vacant for years. We might not even know who the owner is. They may not be paying attention to property anymore, and it impacts property values around them. We don’t want to see this happen,” Miller said. “It’s not about telling people what to do with their properties, but I have an issue when it impacts the residents around them.”
No one is immune from the responsibility of maintaining their property, not even Miller.
“In our code, if you have tree limbs on your property overhanging the street and it’s impeding garbage trucks or creating a problem, you have to cut them,” he said. “When we got into this, I found out that was the case where I live. I had some limbs that were overhanging off my property. I immediately went and cut down the limbs. If we’re going to make people follow these rules, I need to do that as well. I’m going to talk the talk and walk the walk. We’re in this together. This isn’t about picking on anybody or any individual. It’s about making our town a better place to live and work.”