At a recent City Council meeting, Bert Crowe, director of the city of Tifton Environmental Management Department, gave a presentation on his department, which encompasses the Planning, Zoning, Code Enforcement and Building Inspections functions.
He gave the council members handouts about the department, including information on their purpose, mission and vision. He said as of this fiscal year, they have had 883 code cases so far. That number will probably be in the 900-950 range by the end of this month. They usually average between 900 to 1,000 cases per year.
Crowe went over the department's daily operations and procedures. He said they receive anywhere between 100 to 150 inquiries per day. He noted since they established the department in July 2011, they have had a 30 percent reduction in staff, 12 percent reduction in the budget overall and they have been constant in their revenue figures.
Following Crowe's presentation, Councilman Chris Parrott questioned him about the atmosphere of Code Enforcement. He said there's no doubt they need Code Enforcement in the city. He said he asked City Manager Larry Riner to put the department on the agenda so the council can hear some of things he's hearing and some concerns.
He thanked Crowe for providing the information about the department, but he commented that he's concerned about the atmosphere of Code Enforcement.
"Code Enforcement is out there to get you," Parrott said. "With that atmosphere is delivery of message."
He asked how many people in the room have the book of codes. "Nobody," he said. "People don't know."
"So, we go out there and express to them that this is a violation or this is a problem. We need to say it in a way where we know we're not here to beat you up, but we're here to help you," Parrott said. "At the end of the day, our taxpayers are customers of the city of Tifton. So, when it comes to Code Enforcement's salary and Larry's salary, it comes from our customers, which are the taxpayers. No business is going to go out there and have a hostile environment or treat them like their criminals, because they want their business and want them to come back. Well, we want people to stay in Tifton and come back for help on Code Enforcement and not feel like 'I'm going to be taken to court or someone's not listening to me.'"
He further commented that he's heard that Code Enforcement has blocked people from entering their property by pulling their cruisers into the driveway. Crowe said he's not aaware of this happening. They have only gone into the driveway to park. Parrott told him he may want to follow up on that to see if this is true or not. Crowe said he would check into it.
Parrott mentioned several other complainants that he's received.
"We're not supposed to be going after people. We're supposed to make sure we have a clean city, safe city, buildings are structurally sound, there are not crack houses out there — we clean up things. We go after the areas we need to go after, and we don't harass the senior citizens and things like that," he said.
He recommended to Crowe that they have a meeting once a month to make sure that he doesn't hear any of these complainants. He said he wants to make sure this department is operating like it should. Parrott told Crowe that there's no doubt in his mind that he will make sure it operates efficiently.
"I just want to make sure this hostile atmosphere and this culture that's surrounding Code Enforcement ends. We're here to help people, not anything else," he said.
Crowe responded to some of Parrott's comments about the complaints he's received. He said as far as the overall aspect of how they conduct business, they're conducting business no different than they have since they started. He said they understand that people don't understand ordinances. That's why they want people to contact their office or they try to make contact with them.
"We want people to call us," Crowe said.
He said they do what they're obligated to do, and now they record all of their visits when they were only recording some of them for quality control. He told Parrott that he's not seeing the issues he's talking about.
Crowe said the one point that he makes to his department since they started is, "We are a department that was set up to ask people to do things that they don't want to do, and also pay for it many times."
He added, "And when you begin to ask people to do things that they don't want to do on property that truly belongs to them, because the ordinance says that, then you're going to have people who are not going to be happy and you're always going to make somebody upset. The idea though is to do everything in your power to remedy that problem, work with people. The only thing we have to offer people is customer service. We have strived and continue to strive to give customer service to the level that's really beyond what's required by the city."
Parrott told Crowe that his department is still in the infancy stage, and there are going to be tweaks and developments, and said they need to show people they're business friendly.
Parrott said the delivery of messages needs to be changed and they need to be seen as helpers.
"Have them take your help," he said, advising the department to figure out how to do that without punishing people with money, etc.
Also, the council approved the resolution providing for amendment to Urban Redevelopment Area, resolution providing for acceptance of proposal for design/build services for the Chula fire station and ordinance providing for sale of craft beer growlers. They also approved the ordinance providing for the annexation and zoning reclassification of 4.823 acres owned by Peach way Holdings LLC located on E.B. Hamilton Drive, adjacent to Westhaven Village, from Tift County Agricultural Use (AU) to city of Tifton Multiple Residential (MR).
In addition, the council approved the ordinance amending noise control requirements. Mayor Jamie Cater recused himself due to someone, who is interested in bringing music downtown, looking at some of the buildings that he owns. He noted he would have voted in favor, but he didn't want there to be any conflict of interest.
City attorney Rob Wilmot said there was one small change to the ordinance that has to do with people playing music in their vehicles and boom boxes. It was a suggestion by Riner to reduce the distance from 50 feet during the day time to 25 feet no matter what time of the day it is.
The council voted to appoint/reappoint: Jeannie Rigdon, Tree Board; Lorie Marchant, Keep Tifton Beautiful; Charles Styer, Jeffrey Daniels, Suzanne Click and Nathaniel Pridgon, Historic Preservation Commission; Erika Johnson, Tifton-Tift County Library Board; and Major Battle Jr. and Julie Sharpe, Planning and Zoning Commission.
To contact reporter Latasha Ford, call 382-4321.