2018-01-11 / News

Chief: More resources needed for blight, code enforcement

BY LANIA ROCHA
810-452-2652 • lrocha@mihomepaper.com

GAINES TOWNSHIP – Police Chief Mark Schmitzer says he’ll need more resources to keep up with code enforcement and blight elimination efforts in the next fiscal year.

In 2017, the township board of trustees budgeted $4,000 and assigned blight and code enforcement duties to Schmitzer.

“That money was gone in the first month and a half,” the chief said.

In addition, the added tasks take “way too much time,” and Schmitzer would rather spend that time doing police work.

The chief is hoping the board will earmark some additional funds in the 2018-19 budget to hire a parttime code enforcement officer.

He has proposed the board set aside $22,464 for the officer to work at least 24 hours per week. He’s also asking to double the budget for legal expenses.

“Last year, we (the police department) took it over to get a handle on it and to see how much real time and effort was needed to get it done,” said Schmitzer. “We’re finding it’s a lot more than we expected.”

In 2017, the police department investigated 42 zoning and/or blight complaints.

Only five were resolved with just a verbal or written notice, Schmitzer said.

In another 27 cases, police had to issue citations or take the matter to court for resolution.

Schmitzer is still working on 10 cases from last year.

“It should be noted that Gaines Township has hundreds of unaddressed zoning and blight violations,” he wrote in a memorandum to the board of trustees.

It’s not just junk cars or stacks of building materials and random debris, Schmitzer said. There are also building code violations that need to be addressed.

The privacy factor inherent in the culture of rural living complicates efforts to enforce the township’s codes.

“People tell me they moved out to the country so they can do what they want,” said Schmitzer. “I hear it all the time.”

It doesn’t help that violations went unchecked for so long.

“It had not been addressed for so many years,” said Schmitzer. “Around the middle of 2013, we started trying to address some of it. But there are hundreds of things that have not been addressed. Now that I’m starting to, a lot of people, especially those who have been here a long time and have been getting away with stuff, aren’t liking it much.”

Gaines Township is a zoned community, which means that although property owners have rights, it’s not a free-for-all.

In addition, there are plenty of property owners who believe their rights to protect their investments trump their neighbors’ rights to pile junk out back.

“I’ve heard people say that, although they don’t have a $1 million mansion, their $150,000 home shouldn’t be devalued by the actions of someone else,” said Schmitzer.

With the exception of the permit violations, all of the code enforcement and blight work is complaint driven.

Schmitzer said he’s hoping the township can become more proactive.

The board is expected to begin budget talks later this month. A budget workshop is set for 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 25.

The 2018-19 fiscal year begins April 1.

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