Youngstown council OKs building dept. merger, traffic cameras

By Ashley Luthern


City council has authorized the Board of Control to contract with Mahoning County for building inspections and with a private company to install traffic cameras.

During its first meeting of 2013, council voted Wednesday night in support of the board of control contracting with Mahoning County to enforce building codes and permitting in the city.

County commissioners already signed off on the agreement Dec. 20 to consolidate the city’s building department into the county’s.

Mayor Charles Sammarone sponsored the legislation and said Wednesday he supports the measure as a cost-saving initiative.

The mayor said the city would need to spend about $450,000 to have an effective building inspection department. Also, he said, the department should be funded solely by building permits, which have averaged about $214,000 annually during the last five years. The remaining money needed to fund the department had to be taken out of the general fund, he noted.

The consolidation should save the city about $235,000 annually, Sammarone said.

In March, the county building department took over the city’s housing inspections at a fee of $60 per inspection. With the consolidation, the county would take over permitting and no longer charge the city an inspection fee, according to Vindicator files.

The board of control also got the green light from council to negotiate a contract with Redflex Traffic Systems of Phoenix to install traffic cameras in school zones throughout the city.

The traffic camera proposal has been in the works for about three years. Council members said Wednesday that safety is their motivation for installing them.

In other business, council voted to amend the vacant property registry to include a $10,000 bond on foreclosed properties, a victory for residents who have been advocating accountability from banks that own dilapidated homes in foreclosure.

The legislation is a result of a Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative campaign, and the bond can be used against mowing, boarding and demolition costs the city incurs, said Gary Davenport, MVOC organizing fellow.

He said the legislation is based on laws in Canton and Springfield, Mass., and “takes a big industry to task.”

South Side resident Mary Krupa said the law should prompt banks to care for vacant properties instead of letting them turn into blight.

“Just seeing the slow deterioration and lack of concern of property owners, whether it’s banks or people who moved ... it’s horrible. I think about the blight every single day,” Krupa said.

“I think Youngstown is taking a step in the right direction by expanding accountability,” she added.

Some council members asked during a finance committee meeting if the bond is enforceable and if so, if enforcement will require extra resources.

Law Director Anthony Farris said infrastructure already is in place to register the vacant homes, and the only addition is the posting of bond.

Farris said violators will be prosecuted, and the city’s broad definition of a property owner can be used to hold banks accountable.

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