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Morgantown asks county to step up property compliance efforts

MORGANTOWN — The city of Morgantown is asking the county to step up its enforcement efforts regarding dilapidated properties — specifically those bordering city residents and property. 

During a recent meeting between city and county officials, Assistant City Manager Emily Muzzarelli pointed out that the jigsaw nature of the city’s boundaries and the discrepancy in laws between the city and county lead to instances in which neighbors are being held to vastly different standards. 

“We’re trying to do a big push on property maintenance within city limits. You know our borders, they’re very weird. Sometimes your neighbor who happens to be on the other side of the border and there’s nothing the city can enforce,” she said. 

Mayor Jenny Selin explained further. 

“Some of these are actively hazardous. It’s not, did you mow your lawn? It’s, is your tree falling on your neighbor? Your neighbor has an expectation that they want to be able to enjoy their yard,” she said. 

It was suggested during that meeting, West Virginia Code 15A-11-5 would allow the city and county to enter into an agreement through which the city could enforce state building code beyond its boundaries. 

But the code appears to suggest the county would have to adopt the state building code, or at least the International Property Maintenance Code — a subsection of the full building code — to be able to use such an agreement.  

The county currently operates under its own abandoned and dilapidated property ordinance, which sets up a lengthy process involving both a volunteer Abandoned and Dilapidated Properties Committee and the county commission. 

While that may be appropriate in some situations, a 30-day notice to cut already knee-high grass is not effective. 

Another difference: The city has a code enforcement department handling compliance; the county has one person. 

Alex Hall was hired as Monongalia County litter control officer in April. Prior to that, the position spent eight months largely in flux. 

Hall said his first order of business was to essentially restart the process for every property the county had on file in an effort to ensure everyone was treated fairly and nothing was missed. 

Then he started looking at the books. 

“Recently, over probably the last month or so, we’ve been working on looking into strengthening our ordinance to try to get that enforcement a little better,” he said, noting the county has just started exploring the possibility of adopting the IPMC. 

Regardless of the route the county chooses, Hall said he’s open to working with the city.

“In terms of working together and trying to figure out a plan to make everybody happy, we’re absolutely interested in working with the city 100% to try to make something work,” he said.