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Maintenance code enforcement questioned

SALEM — The Rules and Ordinances Committee of city council is taking a look at challenges related to enforcement of the International Property Maintenance Code, which was adopted four years ago in an effort to improve conditions of downtown buildings and properties.

In particular, the members are asking how to improve enforcement and what’s needed to do that, whether that means having a fire inspector just doing inspections for the fire code and the IPMC instead of responding to calls with the exception of structure fires, or continuing to involve Planning and Zoning Inspector Chip Hank.

City council adopted the IPMC in 2015 as a means to ensure all properties, buildings and structures in the C-3 Central Commercial Zoning District remain safe, sanitary and fit for human occupancy, charging the fire department with doing the inspections.

During the committee meeting on Tuesday, both Fire Chief Scott Mason and Hank were questioned by the committee regarding the IPMC enforcement after a request had been made to change the language giving Hank authority. Committee Chair Councilwoman Cyndi Baronzzi Dickey said the intent was for the fire department inspectors to look for IPMC violations in C-3 buildings at the same time they were conducting inspections for the state fire code on commercial buildings.

Mason explained that Town Center Associates had been helping the city find ways to improve the downtown and recommended the IPMC, stressing the facades and how buildings appeared. He said if the fire department was going to enforce it, they would have to do the whole building, so Mason appointed Hank to just look at facades as part of the IPMC, which was in addition to his other duties in planning and zoning. He did training for IPMC.

The fire department is responsible for inspecting all commercial buildings in the city, not just those in the downtown, and many of the requirements dealing with structural issues in the IPMC are already included in the state fire code, which goes more in depth, Mason said in a previous story. The fire department has continued looking for structural issues per the state fire code, while Hank has looked at the outside facades for things like chipped paint, broken windows and other visible issues.

The IPMC includes: general requirements in a number of areas, including rubbish and garbage and pest elimination; light, ventilation and occupancy limitations; plumbing facilities and fixture requirements; mechanical and electrical requirements; and fire safety requirements. The document allows for the fire department to call in for expert advice, such as an inspection by a structural engineer.

In June 2016, Mason sent letters out to all the building owners falling under the IPMC, noting that the fire department was going to be enforcing the requirements. In July 2017, Hank sent out violation notices to property owners regarding IPMC violations related to the facades. Some responded and fixed the problems. Others did not. He said since he’s not the enforcement official, he can’t cite them into court. Mason said when they consulted with TCA, they were told to cite people into mayor’s court, but the city doesn’t have mayor’s court.

Councilman Geoff Goll stressed that the ordinance refers to the entire structure, not just the facade. He said he wanted to add a portion for the code official to submit a summary of all inspections to council on a quarterly basis, so council members know what inspections are being done and what problems may be occurring. He also said the law director can file criminal charges in county municipal court for people who don’t comply with the IPMC.

Dickey said she was “a little disturbed” that they’ve had the IPMC in place for four years now and they’re still not getting reports and the inspections aren’t getting done by the fire department.

“Kind of disheartening. What’s the block to getting it done,” she said.

She admitted she’s never seen what the fire department does and doesn’t understand why the IPMC can’t be done at the same time as the other inspections.

Mason said the department isn’t able to get all the state fire inspections done every year, let alone the IPMC. Dickey responded, “so it’s not going to get done.”

“Not the results you want,” Mason said.

Goll pointed out that the size of the C-3 downtown business district has been reduced, so less properties would fall under the IPMC, but Mason noted that the fire department still has to do the state fire inspections for the whole city. Dickey also said that Hank is supposed to be working on the vacant property ordinance, too.

The consensus was that there may be a manpower problem. Inspections are done during business hours, but many times an inspector may be on the way out the door for an inspection and then have to answer a fire call. Mason suggested having one inspector working 40 hours a week without having to also answer calls.

“Chief, are you asking for another employee?” Goll asked.

Dickey expressed a concern about the fire employees union and whether they could have someone in the planning or housing department as the inspector.

“Might be less expensive in the long run but I don’t want to have a problem with the union,” she said.

She asked the chief to look at the department and see what can be done and get back to the committee with ideas and told Hank to do the same.

“We need to find a way to make this work,” she said.

mgreier@salemnews.net

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