City bylaw department swamped with complaints, needs help

City bylaw department swamped with complaints, needs help
The city is hoping to get tough with those who have substandard properties in the city.

A short-staffed city bylaw department is being swamped with complaints from Cornwall residents and it looks as if city council has had enough. Now councillors have to decide to spend some money.

A report to city council by chief building official Chris Rogers paints a bleak picture of the Cornwall’s bylaw department. The department operates on a shoe-string and has just 1.5 positions trying to enforce a multitude of bylaws designed to police vacant buildings, structural safety and yard cleanliness.

The city receives some 1,700 bylaw complaints a year, and Roger said his department has a difficult job just trying to catch up.

On top of falling behind on addressing complaints, the bylaw department has moved to become more proactive in addressing property standards issues, as opposed to waiting for complaints to come in.

“Since the middle of June, we recorded 45 to 50 properties that need action…so that’s proactive,” he said. “That’s just me and our staff driving around and observing properties and listing them for the record.”

Rogers wants to make the two part-time jobs he has into full-time positions in 2013, and also implement a $150 administration fee when workers have to clean up sites on behalf of property owners.

While the administartion fee issue was approved by council, adding full-time positions to the city payroll will have to wait until the 2013 budget is approved – which means its hardly a guarantee it will happen.

While council seems committed to adding more teeth to the bylaw department now, there have been occasions in the past where budget pressures have forced councillors to shelve good ideas in favour of saving money.

“He’s doing a fantastic job and he’s short of staff,” said Coun. Gerald Samson, adding when he joined council he had some concerns about the job the department was doing. That changed when he saw the volume of complaints and work the bylaw officers must grapple with.

“We need more bylaw officers,” he said. “(The department) needs technical equipment, they need computers in their cars. They are so short of staff, it’s unbelievable the job (Rogers is) doing.”

Coun. Syd Gardiner suggested to his colleagues at a recent council meeting other municipalities of similar size to Cornwall have double the workers to deal solely with property standards — and some of those cities have far fewer complaints to deal with.

“I look at the population of Cornwall with 46,000 residents and we’re receiving 2,000-plus complaints a year,” said Coun. Maurice Dupelle. “Then I look at the population of Niagara Falls of 83,000 residents and they’re receiving complaints of 700 per year. I think we need to, as a council, stand behind our property standards department.”

Coun. Bernadette Clement said in the wake of a mall collapse in Elliott Lake, the city needs to be more committed to enforcing infrastructure safety bylaws.

“That makes me wonder about liability for the city of Cornwall,” she said. “We can’t just be complaint driven.”

She said despite other pressure on the city’s budget, property standards must be protected and given greater support.

“There’s pressure to not raise taxes, and things fall off the table. This is something that’s fallen off.”

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