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Getting Specific on the Issues: Code Enforcement

Posted by Runfellow on 2011/5/1 19:50:00 (4866 reads)

Open in new windowThis is yet another piece by me, Brandon Cooper, in what will hopefully be an ongoing series leading up to the Lewisville City Council election on May 14.

It’s an issue that has come up again and again and again: we’ve got to enforce code. Supposedly we’re doing a horrible job of it. If we just crack down, it’ll solve illegal immigration, our “substandard housing” problem, our budget problems, etc. It seems to be the go-to answer even when it has nothing to do with the issue at hand.

Mike McCary has stated:

Utilizing Code Enforcement and Building Inspections would sustain those strong neighborhoods and would ultimately eradicate urban decay.

In answer to the question “What should the city or the police department do to address the issue of illegal immigration?” on the Dallas Morning News Voter Guide, he stated:
The City should strictly enforce its minimum housing standards and current building codes.
Man, this code enforcement stuff sounds so simple and easy. It’ll just solve our problems in a jiffy! I wonder why nobody else has ever thought of this?

Let’s consider a complaint I’ve heard frequently during this election: our city is doing a horrible job of code enforcement. Instead of incredulously telling people who doubt this claim to just “look around”, let’s consider actual facts, not anecdotal evidence.

According to page 193 of the most recent city budget (pg. 209 of the pdf), 99% of code enforcement complaints last year were responded to in 48 hours or less. 49,000 code enforcement violations were voluntarily complied with. The percent of properties in compliance in Target Areas 3 and 4 (both in Old Town, where McCary never seems to leave) are 95% and 96%, respectively. Page 23 (pdf pg. 39) shows that code enforcement officers attended 42 neighborhood meetings last year. There is always room for improvement, but overall this shows to me that the city is doing a far better job than some would have you believe. If you’d like to say the city is lying about this, I’d love to see actual proof, not random pictures or anecdotal stories of particular houses.

It doesn’t matter what you do; some people will always want you to do more.

Let’s consider McCary’s solution to the “problem” of code enforcement. He said at the first forum:
I think we need to double code enforcement officers and hire 20-40 more police officers to help deal with this problem.

Code enforcement is currently not the responsibility of the Lewisville Police Department, but McCary believes it should be, according to the most recent Dallas Morning News article. Code enforcement requires training and certification, as he has repeated throughout this campaign when touting his limited credentials in this area. According to page 197-198 of our budget (213-214 of the pdf), we currently have five code enforcement officers and one chief officer. Total “personal costs” (which is the total cost to the city for employees including salaries, benefits, etc.) for these six officers is $403,225, which comes out to about $67,204 per officer (salary is about $52,513). McCary wants to double the number of code enforcement officers, so automatically his plan would cost the city $806,450 per year just for personnel. But let’s not forget he also wants to hire 20-40 new police officers to enforce code (which, again, is not even their job). Looking at the budget on page 146 (162 of the pdf), we have 10 traffic officers (the closest thing I could find) and one Sergeant in this division. Total personal costs for these 11 are $1,028,175, which comes out to $93,470 per officer. If McCary wants to hire 20-40 new police officers for code enforcement, this comes out to a cost between $1,869,400 and $3,738,800 per year. This brings McCary’s total cost for just personnel to between $2,675,850 and $4,545,250 PER YEAR. Oh yeah, and that cost doesn’t include the cars we’ll need to for them to drive, or the required training, or the laptops they use, or anything else.

Of course he has no idea how he would pay for this. He is against new taxes, as all the candidates are. Cut spending? Where? What McCary and Hill can’t seem to understand is that you cannot simply reallocate funds wherever you see fit. Take our special events budget, which has been lambasted of late. This is paid for by our municipal Hotel Occupancy Tax. According to the Texas Tax Code, Chapter 351, Subchapter B:
Revenue from the municipal hotel occupancy tax may be used only to promote tourism and the convention and hotel industry.
We can’t turn around and spend that money on McCary’s pet code enforcement project. Even if he could spend the Western Days budget, for example, on hiring new officers, Western Days’ total event cost is $358,500 (pg. 61, 77 of the pdf), which would only account for only a small fraction of McCary’s plan. Oh but I’m sure we’ll just “eliminate waste”, look at all programs from the bottom up, and “focus on core services”.

Have you ever been in the middle of a complex and frustrating task and gotten stuck? Don’t you just hate it when someone comes into the room for the first time and starts to say “well why don’t you just...” and then suggests a ridiculously simple solution you’ve already tried 50 times before they decided to come in give their sagely advice? Yeah, that’s what this feels like. When a candidate who hasn’t served his city in any official capacity comes into a city council race and basically says “why don’t you just enforce code?” people grumble for good reason. If solving all of our problems were as simple as writing tickets, don’t you think we’d have done that already?

Let’s face it, Mike McCary is a one issue candidate, and his solution to that issue is implausible. The idea of adding the responsibility of code enforcement to the long list of what the Lewisville Police Department must deal with and hiring 26-46 new employees just for code enforcement is absurd, even if you could afford the ridiculous cost. Not only that, but by using code enforcement as a crutch, McCary has avoided many of the problems facing Lewisville. He flat out said at the last candidate forum
I know absolutely nothing about the ins and outs of gas drilling.

Is our city facing numerous issues, including neighborhood aging? Absolutely, and I want a candidate like Leroy Vaughn who is going to address those issues with comprehensive solutions and answers that concern not only specific neighborhoods but our city as a whole. I want a candidate who is not going to simply say “I know nothing” as if that is a legitimate excuse for ignorance regarding an important issue. The issue of neighborhood revitalization is important, but McCary and others are disproportionately using the subject to demean our city as frequently as possible in order to inspire fear. The issue is a complex one that consists of other elements that are complex in and of themselves. In order to revitalize neighborhoods, we are going to have to enforce code (as the facts show we have done) in addition to creating tax revenue from businesses to pay for projects like road repair and looking at abatement programs and making sure we’re improving our park system and numerous other solutions. I highly recommend that citizens make their voting decisions not based upon simplistic talking points but what the objective facts are. Vote for candidates who will address all of our citizens’ needs, not just one of them.

-Brandon Cooper

- Municipals2011
- Mike McCary
- Leroy Vaughn

- Rating: 8.00 (2 votes) - {$lang_ratethisnews}

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