WEST ALEXANDRIA — Village Council discussed adopting an ordinance that would threaten property owners in the village with legal repercussions if residents are repeatedly cited for drug-related offenses during its regular monthly meeting Monday, Aug. 17.
As discussed during council’s May 18 meeting, this type of legal measure – known as a use nuisance ordinance under Ohio law – targets “different types of criminal offenses that habitually take place at [certain] properties,” according to West Alexandria Police Chief Tony Gasper. Assistant Chief Mike McDonald presented council with a copy of a similar ordinance adopted by the City of Eaton in May.
The owners of properties found to be in violation of such ordinances typically face a series of warnings and fines, according to Gasper, and can even lose the ability to continue renting the property for a period of time.
Councilman Zach Shafer suggested declaring an emergency in order to waive the three readings typically required to pass such an ordinance during last week’s meeting.
“This is really going to give the police more tools to go after our drug houses,” Shafer said.
Shafer also stressed that drug offenses, assaults, and other crimes specified in the ordinance can lower property values in the village.
“You can only give somebody so many strikes,” Shafer said.
Mayor Jeff Hickey disagreed with Shafer’s request to declare an emergency, saying he felt the measure should go through the usual legislative process before being adopted.
“I think it needs three meetings over three months,” Hickey said, “to give homeowners in the village a chance to come to one of those meetings and speak to council.”
According to village solicitor Aaron Glasgow, after a certain number of drug-related calls are made to police concerning a property over a set period of time, the owner would receive a warning that the property is in danger of being declared a nuisance. They can then be cited if further incidents take place at the property, which can ultimately be foreclosed on by the village if the citations are not paid.
“I know Eaton has used it to shut down some drug houses here and there,” Chief Gasper told The Register-Herald in May. “After the landlord is forced to pay a fine, the people creating the issue are usually removed from the property.”
Gasper also stressed that the presence of drugs in a community can lead to various other types of crime, including theft and assault.
“A lot of those can be put into check by alleviating drug offenses,” Gasper said.
Assistant Chief McDonald, meanwhile, indicated there are currently “four or five” drug houses believed to be operating in West Alex, some confirmed and others merely suspected.
Council ultimately voted to approve the first reading of the ordinance, with council president Ashley Myers voting against.
Council voted to enter into a contract with Marietta, Ohio-based accounting firm Perry & Associates to perform a federal audit. The audit, which would cost approximately $60,000 spread over three years, is required because the village received an $8 million grant from the United States Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) to fund the construction of the new wastewater treatment plant.
“We’re basically spending $60,000 in order to get $8 million,” councilman Shannon Smith said.
The measure was ultimately approved by a vote of 4-2, with councilmen Shafer and Dan Utsinger voting against. In an email to The Register-Herald, Utsinger said that he hadn’t been given enough time to read the more than 30-page bid document, and that he would like to have taken the time to solicit even more bids.
Shafer spoke more strongly.
“Other council members were part of this project for three and a half years,” Shafer said. “[The audit] had to be submitted to the Preble County Auditor to be put out for bids. This is something we should’ve known about and started planning for a while ago, not right before the meeting. But instead they kept it in the dark from the rest of the council.”
Shafer and Utsinger were not informed about the audit until several hours before Monday night’s meeting, Shafer said.
“We received a 30-page document that we’re supposed to go over with a fine-tooth comb,” Shafer said. “The council voted very quickly on spending $60,000 that we really have no idea where it’s coming from.”
Also during Monday’s meeting:
Council voted to approve an expenditure of approximately $3,500 to upgrade the village’s utility bill management software. The new software, according to Village Administrator Adam Beneke, “changes everything, [and] upgrades what was a pretty old, outdated system.”
The older software runs slow and doesn’t support online bill payment options, according to Beneke.
The vote was initially a tie, with council members Utsinger, Myers and Geoff Justice voting against. Mayor Hickey then broke the tie with his own ‘Yes’ vote.
Beneke also updated council on efforts to demolish the former site of the Old Twin Tavern, located at 10 N. Main St. in West Alex. Beneke said he had applied for an emergency waiver from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in order to expedite the process. He also indicated that it might be possible to secure a grant to pay for part of the demolition, based on the interior of the building having been declared a fire hazard.
Councilmen Utsinger and Shafer made a motion to cash in a $50,000 certificate of deposit held by the village in order to purchase and demolish the property during council’s Feb. 18 meeting. They had previously been authorized to negotiate a purchase agreement with the property’s owner on Jan. 21.
Mayor Hickey again raised the issue of having cameras installed in Smith Park. Council initially debated whether to install the cameras during its April 20 meeting, with councilman Shafer presenting a quote of $6,350 for installation and an additional $4,500 for lighting upgrades at that time.
Council ultimately voted to purchase lighting upgrades for a price not to exceed $5,000. Hickey indicated this had not prevented additional graffiti from appearing in the park, however.
“Somewhere down the line this needs to be a priority,” Hickey said.
Council’s next scheduled meeting is a work session, to be held Sept. 14 at 6 p.m. in Village E.M.S. office located at 8 Marty Ln.
Reach Anthony Baker at 937-683-4057 or on Facebook or Instagram @mproperenglish