City development and NSI reorg update
At tonight’s Public Safety & Welfare (PS & W) Committee meeting, the last agenda item up for discussion was the proposed resolution to reorganize certain operations of the city with respect to the Departments of City Development and Neighborhood Services and Inspections (NSI) and to subsequently create the Department of Community Development and Inspections. This item was deferred from two prior PS & W meetings (those held on October 25th and October 10th). Click here to review reports from these prior meetings: “Temporary Structures Will Need to Apply for a Permit” and “Paula Blise, Zoning Coordinator, Addresses Public Safety & Welfare Committee.” The committee did not go into closed session, as was its option pursuant to State statute.
There were no comments from the public at tonight’s meeting. Chairman Jesse Downing stated his own opinion as to the definite need for a director. However, he didn’t agree with the two superintendents. The plumbing inspector had already been eliminated. Two certified senior building inspectors are included, one for plumbing and one for electrical, or contract services can be used for these positions, which would save the citizens of Kenosha some money. “With all of the NSI events that have been happening lately, we had only one person in charge of it. The more people that know how the department runs, the better. We don’t need middle management; we need people working out on the street,” were Downing’s comments.
Alderperson Rocco LaMacchia requested an answer to a question that was raised at the last meeting regarding whether or not a plumbing and electrical inspector needed to be on the city’s staff. Jeff LaBahn, director of city development, stated that they did some research and found that these positions do not need to be part of the city’s staff. The services can be provided in another form, either by a contract employee, or a contract agency, etc. The person does need to be qualified in order to meet State requirements, though.
Alderperson Michael Orth raised the issue of development of inspector qualifications. Orth stated that a lot of money is spent by both the fire and the police departments on training. “How much is spent on certification purposes for inspectors and community development specialists?” he wanted to know. LaBahn couldn’t give him an answer, but did state that new certifications are not pursued, only training to maintain current certifications of those employed. Orth stated, “We want fewer people, and we want them to expand their skills. We are not investing in human capital. What’s our other choice? Fire all people and re-hire?” Steve Stanczak, human resources director, then briefly described the new progression system. “In the past, there was no enforcement. We encouraged them, but they were not clubbed over the head. It’s not the employee’s option any longer. They are now given a window of time, six months to study and take the test for the next progression. They would go from a I to a II, to a senior inspector, for example.”
Therefore, the positions on the organization chart were revised to read “senior city development specialist” and ”senior building inspector.” If the person filling the position does not have the certifications necessary to be a “senior,” then the position would remain underfilled while the incumbent progressed through his/her career path. LaBahn stated that this would “give the city the flexibility it needs to hire/promote employees to best meet the needs of the city.” Stanczak further explained, “We would recruit for a senior inspector, and fill in with a I or a II, with the stipulation that the employee must obtain an additional certification within six months.” Orth wanted to make sure that this was ”do-able,” and he was given assurance that it was.
The committee wanted these title changes modified on the organization charts and also for the names of the employees to be deleted from the charts. They requested that administration make these changes and have them ready for a special meeting that would be held before the next Common Council meeting on Monday, the 21st.
In other business conducted during the meeting, the committee approved:
- Moving the northbound/southbound stop signs on 5th Avenue at 57th Street to 58th Avenue; and
- Placing an eastbound stop sign on 25th Street at 14th Avenue.
The committee also discussed the proposed ordinance changes to Chapter 15 of the Code of General Ordinances related to off-premise signs. Both Mark Rausch of Clear Channel Outdoor and Jason Saari of Adams Outdoor Advertising addressed the committee with their minor modifications, which had to do with the illumination of digital displays and site plan reviews for bulletin boards. Rausch stated that he felt that “there were more negatives going through the conditional use permit process.” The committee requested that Ed Antaramian, the city attorney, make these minor changes and have them ready for the special meeting which will be held next Monday.
Alderperson Steve Bostrom addressed the committee regarding his proposed ordinance to repeal Chapter 28 of the Code of General Ordinances entitled, “Vacant Building Code.” Bostrom felt that the fee structure was “ridiculously out of whack. This could be a good thing and a useful tool to the city if the fee structure made more sense and if enforcement was consistent.” If a plan were to be provided by the city before the next Common Council meeting, Bostrom stated that he would withdraw his support for this change.
Martha Swartz, a building inspector, gave some history behind enforcement. When enacted in 2008, the city did enforce the ordinance. The focus was on the downtown area. “There were 32 vacant buildings. Sixteen got permits, thirteen got occupancy for alterations, and two were razed. In 2009, again the focus was mainly on the downtown area. Wal-Mart became vacant (vacant meaning 180 days) and eligible. At that time, the supervisor backed off on enforcement. In 2010 and 2011, the city felt that the fee structure was not proper. No one paid the fee in 2011, or 2010. A memo was prepared to re-work the fee structure. But then, retirements took place, and this went to the wayside.” Downing wanted to know if there was anything else that went to the wayside, and Swartz replied that there was not.
LaBahn stated that an analysis was made by the staff since his predecessor retired. In 2008, the Common Council approved the fee of $360, plus seven cents per square foot. “For larger buildings, it was very disproportional to staff time. We are now proposing a flat fee of $360.”
Paula Blise, zoning coordinator, reminded the committee of the key rationale behind the ordinance. It was so that the city could go into these vacant buildings and see if there were any detriments present in the building (like sewer back-up’s, bad roofs, etc.). Blise pointed out that the fire department goes into vacant buildings twice a year and could bring any problems noted to the attention of the department. Pat Ryan from the fire department stated that they will continue to do this. Downing wanted to know what the cost to the city was. Swartz recounted how the process worked to get into a vacant building. “An affidavit needs to be signed as to the purpose of entry into the vacant building, the legal department draws up the paperwork, it goes before a judge, someone needs to testify, and a police officer needs to accompany them. If the owner doesn’t show, then a locksmith needs to be called to open the building.” Downing stated, “With all of these things, the costs can get pretty high. We have to recoup our costs somehow. This is not a free service anymore.” Ryan did state that entering vacant buildings is always a risk. Downing mentioned Heritage House. “Before the fire, it was pretty bad. It’s even more dangerous now.” The committee recommended sending the proposal on to the Common Council without a recommendation from the committee.