Property owners will be accountable for dilapidated buildings

NEW CUMBERLAND – Building up New Cumberland may require knocking a few buildings down.

City leaders in the county seat say they want to reorganize the city’s building enforcement agency and hold property owners accountable for the condition of dilapidated buildings.

“City Council and the building enforcement agency are dedicated to improving the look of the town, and this (agency) is the main tool we have,” Mayor Linda McNeil said.

Elected in May and installed in July, McNeil has said one of her main priorities as mayor is to see to it that unkempt properties are either rehabilitated or razed. Although the city has the authority to do so, city officials have not always used it.

City Council passed an ordinance establishing a building enforcement agency in 2001. By 2008, agency officials had identified 10 “unsafe and unsanitary” buildings and began court proceedings to have them demolished, McNeil said. Only three were demolished, but other property owners made improvements because they were made aware of the law, she said.

Since then, efforts to enforce the city’s building standards have languished, partly because of the expense of demolitions and the competition among cities for demolition grants.

McNeil said she wants to make building enforcement a priority for the city once again.

“We’re reviewing the structures that have been declared dilapidated and eligible (for demolition), and we’re prioritizing and asking council for backing to proceed – and the authority to apply for grants,” McNeil said.

McNeil believes reorganizing the building enforcement agency will go a long way toward improving the look of New Cumberland and making it a destination for people and businesses.

“I think if we are to move forward, we must present an appealing appearance,” she said. “It’s a real big step we have to take.”

The cost of razing 10 buildings can reach $40,000, she said.

In addition to reviewing the list of properties already condemned, the agency also has the authority to investigate “the conditions of the dwellings, buildings and structures in the city in order to determine which are dangerous, unhealthy or unfit for human habitation,” according to the ordinance.

Such an investigation must show proof of:

Dilapidation, deterioration, age and obsolescence.

Inadequate provisions for ventilation, air and sanitation.

Existence of conditions which endanger life or property by fire or other causes.

Conditions conducive to ill health, transmission of disease, infant mortality, juvenile delinquency and crime.

Conditions constituting a nuisance.

The building enforcement agency is made up of the mayor, the building inspector, a city councilman and a member at large. The city’s current building inspector is Councilman Shawn Marks.

McNeil said the city wants to work with property owners and facilitate building improvements before resorting to demolition proceedings.

“This is an opportunity for residents and out-of-town owners of property within our city limits to take a look at the condition of their property and make adjustments to come into compliance before the agency takes action,” she said.