Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Cleanup Will Benefit Neighborhoods

City neighborhoods may soon be rid of unsightly tall weeds and debris, thanks to a new crackdown on property code violations.

The City Council will vote Thursday to approve 10 property liens totaling more than $8,700 in what officials described as the first of a wave of cleanups on sites where owners failed to obey the property maintenance code despite warnings.

Public Works & Urban Development Director Jennifer Wenson Maier said Tuesday all city inspectors have been assigned parts of the city to examine over the next 30 days for code violations. Owners will receive notices and will have time to respond, but if they don’t, the city will perform cleanups and place liens on the property to cover the costs.

The largest lien on Tuesday’s agenda was more than $1,500 and the lowest was about $280.

The city can recoup the cost at the time a property is sold or possibly at an annual tax lien sale.

Councilman Don Davis engaged Wenson Maier in a debate over when the lien process becomes counterproductive, such as when liens exceed the value of the property. Wenson Maier said there was no formula for measuring exactly when the balance tipped, but she said the Inspections Division would be “much more vigilant” in coming months.

Council President Rayland Van Blake also asked about the ratio of liens to value, questioning what steps the city would ultimately take, such as possible foreclosure.

“Basically, we’re throwing money out the window,” he said.

But Councilman Cory Storch praised the effort, saying, “This is real progress.”

Storch said the plan was necessary to clean up the city.

Wenson Maier said she would be asking Union County for half a million in funds for the program, which could include demolitions.

In other council business, Davis came in for scrutiny over costs of attending an out-of-state convention, the National Forum of Black Public Administrators in Wichita Kan., this month. Davis claimed he received information of a kind he could not have received at the annual League of Municipalities convention in New Jersey.

In April, Davis previously attended the forum, which has four annual meetings.

Other council members questioned the need to go so far away and the expense of the trips. Davis said air fare might be about $300 and registration $95. He said he would pay for his hotel stay himself.

Davis said he learned about innovations from other officials such as senior tax relief, neglecting to add that he was told last year that programs in other states were reflected in a New Jersey “senior freeze” tax program that fixes obligations at a certain age for those who apply.

The City Council will meet at 8 p.m. Thursday in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave., for its regular meeting.

--Bernice Paglia


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