Regional property maintenance code officials defend issue at Jonesboro forum

by Michael Wilkey ([email protected]) 329 views 

A property maintenance code may deal with everything from wooden chimneys to junk cars but can prevent nuisance problems from happening, a pair of regional property maintenance code experts said Wednesday.

Mark Roberts and Cyndi Lewis with the International Code Council (ICC) spoke to about 35 people during the first of two forums at the Jonesboro Municipal Center. The forum was an opportunity for city officials to talk to residents about the International Property Maintenance Code.

The code is used around the state including Osceola and Lowell, Roberts told the group. A local version of the code was approved Dec. 15 after Jonesboro Mayor Harold Perrin broke a 6-6 tie on the issue. A group seeking to repeal the code turned in more than 5,000 signatures on Feb. 12, requesting a May 3 or May 10 special election.

The Jonesboro City Clerk’s office is working on verifying the 2,432 signatures before setting the election date, officials said this week.

A citizens committee worked on the code for several months before moving to the full council.

Supporters have said the code will enforce issues dealing with dilapidated homes, while opponents have said the code violates the 4th Amendment against illegal searches. Lt. Todd Nelson, with the Jonesboro Police Department Quality of Life unit, said the Jonesboro code requires landlords to be notified as well as get written permission from renters before entering a property.

Also, a judge would have to approve an affidavit before going into a home, officials said.

Lewis, who is the regional manager for the ICC, and Nelson said the Jonesboro code is complaint driven, with safety a key part of the equation. The Jonesboro code, which is set to take effect May 15, also has an appeal board to hear cases.

Roberts, who is the ICC senior regional manager for government relations, said the International Property Maintenance Code takes wording from several other codes, including the International Building Code, International Plumbing Code and International Residential Code.

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Tom Reeves asked the group about other cities in the state not using the code and about concerns over abuse of power by code enforcers. Roberts said the code provides a legal course of action for code enforcers to follow.

Several in the audience asked about the cost for the city to use the code. Lewis said cities the size of Jonesboro are billed about $125 a year, but receive professional guidance and training from paying the money.

Debbie Pelley asked Nelson about enforcement of the code and whether the code “convicts someone before being found guilty in a court of law.” Nelson said it is often up to administration to decide how the speed limit is enforced, just like the property maintenance code.

Dr. Bob Warner asked the group about the “verbiage and regulations” in a 2009 city ordinance compared to the new code. Nelson said while the right of entry verbiage is the same as the 2009 code and in the 2007 Arkansas Fire Code, the new code is more restrictive on city officials. Nelson also said the city will have additional meetings to discuss the issue.