Findlay officials say they hope a new enforcement unit will give residents in some city neighborhoods relief from dilapidated houses, abandoned cars, and overgrown, trash-strewn lawns.
The Neighborhood Enhancement and Abatement Team, established by Findlay City Council, will include two police officers, a zoning official, and an administrative coordinator.
Police Chief Tom Renninger said all nuisance complaints will be handled through the unit, instead of being assigned to the health department, zoning office, or police department, depending on the type of violation. That should help eliminate the backlog of complaints caused by a lack of manpower and enforcement authority, he said.
"Under the old code, all I could do is report a violation to another office," the chief said. "Now we'll be able to address all the issues, from junk vehicles to dilapidated housing to overgrown weeds to trash."
The chief said having uniformed officers address complaints will encourage many property owners to act without authorities having to cite or arrest them.
He said several years ago, the department had a civilian community service officer who was assigned to resolve nuisance issues.
She had little success, but Chief Renninger said that changed when he assigned a uniformed officer to respond to complaints on a part-time basis.
"In five days, he resolved her caseload, which had been there for months," the chief said. "Wiped it out. So we know that it works."
Findlay's population growth and an increase in the number of rental properties in central-city neighborhoods have led to a rising number of nuisance complaints and the need for full-time enforcement, he said.
"The inner-city properties are being purchased by people who are absentee landlords, and that's where we're seeing the problems," the chief said.
The Rev. Deborah Stevens, pastor of Howard United Methodist Church north of downtown, can attest to that. She said that when tenants moved out of a nearby home a couple of years ago, bags of trash sat on the property for months, despite her repeated calls to the city health department and the landlord.
Findlay doesn't have municipal trash pickup, meaning residents have to hire private haulers. In this case, a neighborhood resident finally removed the trash.
Pastor Stevens said the new unit should help avoid those situations.
"I think at that time, if this program that the mayor and city council have just put in place was there, I would have gotten quicker action," she said. "My only choice was the city health department, and they didn't have the authority to do anything."
Mayor Tony Iriti said police and other members of the team will work with residents and property owners to fix problems. If necessary, the city will clear away trash, tow junk cars, or cut overgrown lawns and then bill property owners for the cost, he said.
Citations and arrests will be last resorts, the mayor added.
"What we're trying to do is, we want to clean up the neighborhoods, and we want to help the neighborhoods help themselves," he said.
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