Last week the City received a non-compliance letter from our Act 47 coordinators. The letter was regarding our Code Enforcement Department’s implementation of various Three-Year Exit Plan initiatives. A non-compliance letter is a mere formality for an Act 47 Municipality that has entered a state-monitored and directed exit plan. It has been stated that the City has never received a non-compliance letter; however, that was because we were not in the exit plan phase of Act 47. The administration regularly participates in bi-weekly calls with Act 47 and the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) to discuss the status of the City’s compliance with our Exit Plan Initiatives. This three-year plan became effective on January 1, 2020. To date, there have been numerous changes in our Code Enforcement Department, some that could not be anticipated, and we have adapted. The department continues to move forward efficiently and effectively. While the non-compliance letter’s concerns are valid, some background information can provide context that will help people understand what is taking place from an administrative perception.
- While my administrative team is checking off the list as we implement and achieve specific initiatives, Act 121, also known as the Occupancy Permit ordinance is, a duty for City Council to implement. This ordinance has yet to be introduced, nor have any of the Act 47 requirements been effectively addressed by newly formed Council Committees.
- Concerning BIU’s Contract; The BIU inspections are taking place under the supervision of Code Enforcement. BIU is issuing rental inspection letters in thirds. They’ve mailed out 300 letters to date as the Code Department has provided them with a list of 900 properties. This process has been automated and will easily integrate into the new software system that Code will launch in October.
- Regarding the $47,000 for technology purchase: Code tablets and the Munilogic software were purchased during the last administration. My administration has prioritized upgrading and implementing efficient technology throughout, and Code has been making incremental improvements as they also adjust to the internal administrative changes that have been occurring. There are always challenges that must be overcome with new technology, and Code Officers are currently testing the tablets in cars with the advent of a Mobile Hotspot.
Code enforcement is key to ensuring the quality of life in our community. My administration is committed to operating by the book, and Code is no exception. They are and have been following ordinances and handling all cases professionally. As Mayor, at the onset of this pandemic, I decided to cease writing new citations, except in extreme cases, because of the economic uncertainty many residents were facing. Now, the entire code enforcement processes are back in full operation. In addition to implementing Act 47 initiatives, strides have been made to address the issues with violations being dismissed in court. All code officers received training on courtroom etiquette, legal terminology, and case presentation. These were flaws that were identified through various meetings with Lawrence County court officials. We have initiated a partnership with the District Attorneys’ office. They will assign an Assistant District Attorney to attend court and evaluate each officer.
Lastly, I am excited to announce a partnership with Duquesne University’s Urban Development Practicum. A team of Duquesne’s students will be conducting research on initiatives to further advance our Department of Code Enforcement’s operations and housing needs in the City of New Castle (i.e., housing court, city land bank, and conservatorship).
During my campaign, I promised “REAL” change, and that is what I am delivering. No one said it would be easy! I appreciate your patience!