Government, Latest News, Morgantown Council

Morgantown to consider jail time for repeat violations of building codes

MORGANTOWN — “It’s time to do something,” Morgantown Code Enforcement Director Mike Stone said Tuesday while presenting an ordinance that would give the city a penalty option of up to 30 days in jail as well as a $500 fine for repeated violations of building codes.

The ordinance, which Morgantown City Council moved forward for future consideration, would add the option of jail time for third and subsequent violations of the same conditions.

Stone said that under the current law, certain property owners simply allow fines to build up. He said one property owner in particular has probably been cited more than 40 times over 20-plus years.

“The property is worse now than when we started dealing with it 20 years ago,” Stone said.

Liens can be placed upon properties if the owner owes the city money, but the money doesn’t change hands until the property is sold. In the meantime, the buildings continue to deteriorate.

“We have probably three property owners right now who owe the city thousands and thousands of dollars because they’ve been fined multiple, multiple times,” Stone said. “There’s no recourse. The properties are still vacant, they’re still falling down and they’re still a hazard to the community and the neighbors beside the properties. There is no consequences.”

It was explained that  when the state adopted the 2015 International Property Maintenance Codes, it gave municipalities the option of including imprisonment, if needed.

“We’re not looking at the people who don’t mow their grass or the people who don’t fix their sidewalks. We’re looking at houses that are dilapidated, falling down, off their foundations and a hazard to their neighbors,” Stone said.

In other news, council will also take a closer look at the future observance of Juneteenth (June 19) as a city holiday.

Juneteenth commemorates the emancipation of enslaved people in the U.S.

Interim City Manager Emily Muzzarelli presented council some options ranging from a paid day off for all employees — both civil service (uniformed) and non civil service — to recognizing the holiday but keeping city offices open.

She noted that due to the around-the-clock nature of the police and fire services, it would cost the city  between $35,000-$45,000 annually due to overtime and holiday pay rates.

Mayor Ron Dulaney was one of multiple council members to support observation of the holiday but question taking on added costs given the measures currently being taken by the city and its employees to offset the financial impacts of COVID-19.

Council asked Muzzarelli to look into the viability of creating a holiday exchange program, which would allow employees discretion in which holidays they observe. It was also noted the city could turn an existing holiday, like the day after Thanksgiving, into a floating holiday to be used at employees’ discretion.

Also on Tuesday, council:

  • Received an overview of a 312-page housing needs assessment conducted over five months by Ohio-based Bowen National Research.
    Council approved $34,800 for the  study in November.
  • Moved forward for future consideration a bond ordinance for the Morgantown Utility Board
      The bonds — approximately $35 million over 20 years — will be used to refund Build America Bonds issued in 2010.