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Newton explores ways to tackle nuisances

February 18, 2011

What kind of impression does Newton leave on residents and visitors as they enter the city?

According to one city council member, nothing too positive.

"Coming down N.C. 16 from Conover, the first thing you see is a house on that corner that looks terrible," Council Mary Bess Lawing said of a residence where used and abandoned child toys and refuse fill the property. "People coming through town, wherever they are coming from, they come in and see dilapidated property or property that needs tender, loving care, and they think, 'What kind of city is this?'"

Lawing isn't the only person voicing concern about appearance standards and violations of the city's nuisance codes.

"In the summer a lot of it is tall grass, but year-round there are abandoned cars and junk, breeding rats and unhealthy situations — just general nastiness," said Newton Mayor Robert Mullinax. "I tell folks you can't legislate somebody to be a good neighbor, but we have ordinances that prohibit certain things. ... Go anywhere in town, and it is just a mess."

To combat those problems, Newton City Manager Todd Clark suggested the city explore hiring a full-time person to complete code enforcement within the city. Currently, Newton Police Department's Animal Control officer also completes code enforcement work.

In 2010, that officer helped bring 181 code violation cases into compliance, Clark said, adding 194 violations were investigated. There are five cases that are non-compliant, two in the process of becoming compliant and one case of non-compliance where the owner was arrested.

"Of those 181 (brought into compliance), 136 were resolved in compliance within 15 days; 40 within 30 days; three within 45; one case took 60 days; and another case took 75 days," Clark said.

That officer also responded to 660 animal control complaints, he said.

"In my opinion, that is an overload," Clark said. "We need to start talking about employing a full-time person for this position."

A full-time code enforcement officer might also be certified to complete building inspections, so that enforcement of city codes could extend beyond nuisance ordinances, into those governing minimum housing and occupancy standards, he said.

Mullinax said he doesn't "have a problem with that."

"We have more code violations than that (181 investigated) in the city of Newton," he said. "That man is trying to answer 660 stray dog or cat or snake calls. He doesn't have time to be a code enforcement guy."

During Friday morning's Newton City Council planning retreat, Mullinax, Lawing and Newton Mayor Pro Tem Anne Stedman pushed for more stringent code enforcement, but other leaders seemed reluctant.

"(With) times the way they are, you think we need to hire somebody full-time?" asked Council member Wayne Dellinger who hinted that once code enforcements begin, if a Council member "has people who have a violation," those elected officials hear complaints from their friends and "back-off" enforcement.

Council member Bill Lutz suggested an alternative of creating a volunteer group of citizens to work on code enforcement as a committee, while Council member Robert Abernethy Jr. voiced concern about the cost.

"The way our budget looks, my No. 1 concern with hiring someone else to do code enforcement is that you are going to end up with an extra employee," he said. "What if in three or four years, they have done such a good job, the majority of things are handled ... we get this cleaned up, and then have an extra employee, and we have to fight to keep their job."

Glenn Pattishall confirmed that previously the city had a code enforcement person, and they "did a good job of getting things straightened up." After that priorities shifted and the employee's duties were altered toward soil erosion control and planning department needs.

Further, Dellinger pointed out that even with a code enforcement employee, there are limits to what the city can do.

"There are situations that aren't good, but you can only go so far in telling people how they can live. People live different ways," he said.

"We are looking at the way people should live, rather than the way they do live. How far can you legislate that?"

Still, Lawing said people can be "clean."

"There is no disgrace in being poor, but there is disgrace in not keeping things clean," she said. "You can keep it clean, and you can keep it looking nice. You can protect the other neighbors who do all they can to keep their place clean. You are depreciating their property, and it becomes unsafe for their children to go out and play."

The city's mayor said that Newton leaders would "deal with this" during the budget process.

"In the mean time, you (code enforcement) guys just keep doing the best you can," Mullinax said.


Something Stinks in Newton ...

February 21, 2011 by TySlothrop (not verified), 4 years 9 weeks ago
Comment: 181

And it isn't just the junky yards filled with abandoned cars, garbage and rotting homes.

"Council member Wayne Dellinger who hinted that once code enforcements begin, if a Council member "has people who have a violation," those elected officials hear complaints from their friends and "back-off" enforcement."

Is this a regular practice? City Council passes a new ordinance or rule and these regulations apply to every city resident — except for friends of Wayne Dellinger and his kroney council members? Do City Council members get they're buddies out of speeding tickets, too? Next you'll tell me that they get a break on their utility bills — IF THEY EVEN HAVE TO PAY ONE.

And that is a mighty big IF, when you consider that, as LeeHarper said one Council member doesn't even own property in the city, doesn't even pay property taxes. And that Council member wants to tell us how to maintain our property? Why does our city keep electing these people?
Something stinks.

What's fair for the Goose is Fair for the Gander

February 21, 2011 by LeeHarper (not verified), 4 years 9 weeks ago
Comment: 178

So I am not suppose to "call out" or single out any one in particular? Well the officials at the city have named two families here in town in two seperate but related arguements.

Ever notice the true eyesores here in town never get mentioned? How about the abandoned fenced in property across from the entrance to the library that is owned by the US Post Office, or the old Yoder Oil building on NC that you see coming into Newton from NC10 and NC16, or the massive junk pile of scrap that Midstate Mills has piled up on 2nd Street at the railroad, or the unsightly and trashy rail corridor that Norfolk Southern has that runs the length of our town. Take action about those.

Those are just a few that seem to slip the eyes of the watchers. They seem smug and content to go after low income families to set an example.

The other side of the coin is the complete disregard and free reign for absentee landlords here in Newton. City government has fostered the conduct of having a select group of friends either built apartments or bought cheap houses with the intention of not re-investing in them and keeping them up. Our city has let them create slum like conditions that poc-mark our city. Once it happens in a neighborhood; it spreads. It is interesting how this has happened everywhere except for the streets and cul-de-sacs where the rich live landlords live.

Money is tight, let's handle the important issues first.

February 20, 2011 by LeeHarper (not verified), 4 years 9 weeks ago
Comment: 176

Here We Go Again.

Somewhere in the neighborhood of about eight years ago Mary Bess Lawing and her followers wanted to re-design Newton and create a “gateway” to the town. They chose “A” street coming up off of US321 business to the downtown area. They had plans for trees, flowers, complicated and treacherous crosswalks, and thriving businesses to greet the throngs of visitors who stumbled into Newton from Radio Station Road.

Now the assault is coming from Conover.

I love having someone, Mary Bess Lawing, dictate to me how a city should look. I’m so glad that she understand the plight of the poor but insists that they keep things clean and tidy so the well off don’t have to see the crummy economic conditions.

Why stop at property? Have the City of Newton issue out bar soap and deodorant. Why have a clean looking town with smelly people.

Yes there are areas of Newton that need some sprucing up, but let’s start in making a difference to the areas that may bring jobs, commerce, and wealth back to our town.

Offer incentives to commercial property owners to clean and paint buildings that can be rented out. Jump on the chronic issues that make the town look bad, not a sloppy yard.

Heck, ask churches to get teams together to go and mow yards where the elderly can’t or can’t afford to do it. Ask our city leaders to improve city services to attract people, teach our city workers to be courteous to our citizens, and for god’s sake don’t hire more Gestapo like “officers” to enforce the whim of a Council Woman who doesn’t even own property here in our city.

That’s right….you have someone telling you how to clean your yard who doesn’t even have a yard to clean, someone willing to take more from you in taxes when they don’t pay any. Someone who gets the benefits of living here and pays nothing but a utility bill, lets change the rules and say if you are going to represent people in city government; you ought to be a property owner.

It's time to get this mess cleaned up!

February 20, 2011 by hereintown (not verified), 4 years 9 weeks ago
Comment: 177

We must all do our part to make the City of Newton a better place to live and work. The City does look run down and it's a shame because it's a great community. Instead of shifting blame and arguing about this and that, lets just get out there and do something about it. The church suggestion was a great start. Some business owners might even be willing to donate paint and materials to help with cost. Set up a couple of events where citizens can go out into the community and help each other with painting and cleaning up their properties. Get the Newton/Conover schools involved, get these kids away from the TV set and send them out to help the elderly with all sorts of odd jobs. Make it fun, like a block party, parade or something and offer an award to the group(s) that provide the most volunteers. Make it like the kind of thing that habitat for humanity does. We can do it, we need to organized it and people will be there. This City can turn it around in 2011. In God we trust, Newton you can do it!!

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