WEST ALEXANDRIA — Village Council discussed a controversial ordinance penalizing owners of known “drug houses” and the contents of a recent report by the Ohio Auditor of State during its first monthly meeting of 2021 on Monday, Jan. 18.
Council voted not to move forward with the nuisance ordinance, which would penalize landlords whose properties are repeatedly involved in the commission of drug-related offenses, during its Monday, Oct. 19 meeting last year, despite having voted to approve the first two readings of the ordinance.
Owners of properties found to be in violation of the ordinance would face a series of warnings and fines, and could even lose the ability to continue renting a property for a period of time.
Council president Ashley Myers and others had previously taken issue with the inclusion of barking dog complaints and other noise violations in the ordinance. Myers and council members Holly Robbins and Shannon Smith voted against the measure in October, with Dan Utsinger, Zach Shafer and Geoff Justice voting to approve; Mayor Jeff Hickey broke the resulting tie with his own “No” vote.
The wording of the ordinance was debated again during last Monday’s meeting, with the inclusion of noise, fireworks, and gambling complaints, in particular, at issue.
Police Chief Tony Gasper insisted that it would be at the village’s discretion whether to enforce these sections of the ordinance. Mayor Hickey agreed.
“In my mind it doesn’t do any harm to leave it in there,” Hickey said.
Gasper, meanwhile, stated that he would inform property owners by mail each time their property is involved in an offense. Shafer pushed for another vote on the measure in February, and also suggested declaring an emergency, which would empower council to waive the customary three readings of the ordinance and allow it to take effect immediately upon passage, rather than 30 days later.
Ohio Auditor’s report
Council also discussed the recently released results of an audit conducted by the Ohio Auditor of State’s office. The audit, which covers the years 2017 and 2018, included a finding for recovery against former village fiscal officer Wendy Chesney in the amount of $3,326.
The report also cited the village for being unable to provide requested documents; lacking a formal records retention policy; for “material errors” contained in village financial statements; and for lacking a formal credit card policy or disaster recovery plan.
Mayor Hickey stated that a records commission consisting of himself, current fiscal officer Shaylie Werner, and village solicitor Aaron Glasgow approved a formal records retention policy in December of last year. This involved “a purge of stacks and stacks of boxes accumulated over the course of 40 years,” according to Hickey.
Myers, meanwhile, praised Werner for her help in resolving financial issues cited in the report.
“She had a lot of accounting corrections she needed to make, and I think she’s done an excellent job,” Myers said.
Village Administrator’s report
Village Administrator Adam Beneke once again updated council on efforts to demolish the former site of the Old Twin Tavern, located at 10 N. Main St. in West Alex. Beneke stated that the building, previously declared a fire hazard, was in danger of “imminent collapse.”
“Obviously we’ve got to do something about it,” he said.
Councilmen Utsinger and Shafer suggested cashing 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 last year. Beneke indicated the demolition was expected to cost around $130,000.
Shafer suggested “putting pressure” on the Preble County Auditor and Treasurer’s offices to begin foreclosure proceedings on the property, as this would allow the village to purchase it without paying costly back taxes. Mayor Hickey, meanwhile, instructed Beneke to block off sidewalks and parking spaces adjacent to the building to mitigate the possible danger to pedestrians.
Beneke also reiterated his proposal of a two-percent cost of living salary increase for all village employees. Beneke first suggested the pay raise during council’s Dec. 2020 meeting. Council members Robbins and Smith came out in support of the move at that time.
Utsinger was reluctant, however, saying he wanted to see figures on the proposed increase. Council ultimately voted to table the issue until January.
Myers suggested tabling the issue yet again on Monday, as Utsinger was not present to take part in deliberations. Mayor Hickey agreed.
“Dan was very adamant last month that he wanted to discuss it,” Hickey said.
Council meetings take place the third Monday of each month at 7 p.m. at the village EMS station, located at 8 Marty Ln.
Reach Anthony Baker at 937-683-4057 or on Facebook @mproperenglish