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Getting Specific on the Issues: Code Enforcement

Posted by Runfellow on 2011/5/1 13:50:00 (3985 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}
The comments are owned by the poster. We aren't responsible for their content.

Poster Thread
Posted: 2011/5/6 12:50  Updated: 2011/5/6 13:07
 Re: Getting Specific on the Issues: Code Enforcement
Irving has the same number of code enforcement personnel- 5, covering a much larger city, and they had 14,000 code violations reported cleared last year versus Lewisville's reported 4,500.

Poster Thread
Posted: 2011/5/6 13:10  Updated: 2011/5/6 13:10
Joined: 2008/12/12
Posts: 4182
 Re: Getting Specific on the Issues: Code Enforcement
Curious about your numbers there, and what they include.

If we're just talking nuisance codes, our Chief Code Enforcement Officer, Jackie Davis told me that we had about 28,000 code cases last year, only 1000 of which were from complaints. He said that we end up with 400 - 500 citations out of that, plus there are 500-600 abatements the city performs, such as when the city has to mow a lawn or haul off trash. Those are very expensive to the homeowner, costing a $250 admin fee plus the contracted cost of the service, with ends up being a total of about $350 to mow a lawn.

Poster Thread
Posted: 2011/5/6 17:00  Updated: 2011/5/6 17:00
Guest Columnist (Verified User)
Joined: 2011/3/17
From: Lewisville, TX
Posts: 308
 Re: Getting Specific on the Issues: Code Enforcement
It’s interesting that we’re hearing more and more about Irving and less and less about Farmers Branch as the model we should be adapting. In answer to the question “What are the three most important actions you would take if elected? How would you push for them and pay for them?”
1. Align our city with Farmers Branch and Irving in strict enforcement of current zoning and minimum housing standard ordinances.

I’ve already got to the “how will you pay for them?” part and shown that McCary either doesn’t have a clue or isn’t telling, but let’s discuss Irving.

According to the City of Irving’s Adopted Operating Budget for 2010-2011, the city code enforcement department has 34 full time employees, down from 37 last year (page 93, 107 of the pdf). If I wanted to, I could leave it at that, but that’s an unfair comparison because the departments in Lewisville and Irving are divided differently and thus cover different areas. What you can compare is that Irving currently has 8 property code officers, down from 12 (page 97, 111 of the pdf). If the population of Irving is 216,290, that’s one officer for every 27,036 citizens. The City of Lewisville has a population of 101,624, and with five code enforcement officers that comes out to one officer for every 20,324 citizens. What’s strange is that we’ve been hearing so much that we’ve got to emulate Irving’s code enforcement ideas to renovate neighborhoods by hiring new code enforcement officers and yet we’ve got more officers in this area, proportionally speaking, than Irving does. Now we’re saying that Irving actually does more with less, which is a completely different argument from what I’ve been hearing.

The 14,000 number you got (thanks for sourcing your info, by the way) comes from 2007-2008, and is a total of code enforcement cases resolved, according to the City of Irving Strategic Plan Year-End Update for 2007-2008 (page 40, 50 of the pdf). Here’s your problem: that number includes the entire code enforcement division, which includes property, building (including commercial), health, and multifamily housing code. I have no idea where you got the 4,500 number for Lewisville so I can’t compare it. Nor obviously can I compare the 49,000 number of code violations in Lewisville achieving voluntary compliance (page 193, 206 of of the Lewisville budget) because again, that would be an unfair apples to oranges comparison because the departments cover multiple different areas besides neighborhoods.

Let’s stop pretending as though Irving has magically solved its “code enforcement problem” by adding code enforcement to the responsibilities of the police department. This sounds tough, but it doesn’t necessarily give any more oomph to the department than what it otherwise would have had, and increases in compliance can be affected by a number of factors, including other city projects (such as neighborhood revitalization investments), the economy, and of course how much the city intends to focus on the issue as a whole. The two cities (Lewisville and Irving) have different performance measures, and therefore it is difficult to get a good idea of who is really making progress, but to say that a) Irving is doing something more or different in the area of neighborhood code enforcement and b) they’re making great progress (two claims I’ve been hearing throughout this campaign) would be to make too many assumptions. Lewisville has it’s problems, I’m not denying that, but so does Irving. According to page 95 of their budget (109 of the pdf), only 55% of their residents rated their overall code enforcement as “excellent” or “good”, so let’s everything is hunky-dory.

I hate cheap aphorisms, but the bottom line here is that to some people, the grass will always be greener on the other side. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go code enforcement compliance... I mean eat.

Poster Thread
Posted: 2011/5/12 17:09  Updated: 2011/5/12 17:19
 Re: Getting Specific on the Issues: Code Enforcement
If Lewisville has 49,000 code violations that equals 134 violations every day, 7 days a week.

This seesm like a lot of issues. Is lewisville really in such bad shape to have that many violations? Sounds pretty rough to me.

Poster Thread
Posted: 2011/5/12 17:22  Updated: 2011/5/12 17:22
Joined: 2008/12/12
Posts: 4182
 Re: Getting Specific on the Issues: Code Enforcement
I still don't see what that number includes. I suspect it may include a lot of things that you might not consider a "code violation" in the sense of someone's house being a nuisance. For instance, people put bandit signs out all over town near intersections all the time, advertising credit repair or real-estate investors needed or other nonsense. Those are picked up by the city, and might be counted in that.

We do have 5 officers working full-time, so 134 issues logged in a day would about 27 each.

Poster Thread
Posted: 2011/5/12 18:54  Updated: 2011/5/12 18:54
Quite a regular (Verified User)
Joined: 2011/2/15
Posts: 148
 Re: Getting Specific on the Issues: Code Enforcement
These numbers reported by the city seem oddly even to me. Is it 28,000, 49,000 or something else? If it is 49,000 with a population of 101,000, 48% of the total population of the city has a code violation. This really does not make sense.

According to the city budget on page 23, the code violations are down by 26%, to 4,458. With 5 code enforcers, that equals 18 a day for a 50 week year- vacation etc. This is equal to 2.27 per hour, which seems possible. This equals a 4% violation rate per person.

Anyway, the city reports 26% less code violations in 2009/2010. I think the metric of measuring effectiveness of code enforcement by reducing the of number of violations is self fulfilling.

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