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Citizens ask council to clean up city

By Mark Wineka
Salisbury Post
A large contingent of citizens ó many connected to the Community Appearance Commission and the Neighborhood Alliance group ó urged Salisbury City Council Tuesday to add a housing code enforcement position to the proposed budget.
Deteriorating housing leads to other problems, many of them going beyond appearance to matters of crime and economics, several speakers told council at a public hearing on the 2008-2009 budget.
Other citizens questioned budget-related proposals to increase average residential water-sewer bills by 9.7 percent, recycling and landfill fees and bus fares.
Council members will begin their budget work sessions at noon next Tuesday at City Hall.
Mayor Susan Kluttz said the council appreciated the input from citizens and agreed that the city leaders face many hard decisions.
Mayor Pro Tem Paul Woodson also expressed appreciation for the number of people who spoke Tuesday and said their input “makes a lot of difference to me.”
Councilman William “Pete” Kennedy said nothing was set in stone about the budget.
In his budget presentation May 6, City Manager David Treme recommended that city property taxes remain the same. But he also proposed the almost 10 percent increase in water-sewer rates and hikes in city bus fares and the recycling and landfill fees that are part of city residents’ monthly water-sewer bills.
While Treme acknowledged in his budget message the need for a minimum housing inspector at $39,711 a year, he stopped short of asking for that position.
Instead, the budget calls for the addition of a radio technician, cemetery equipment operator and automotive service technician. Salisbury-Rowan Utilities also would add three people, according to the recommended budget.
Treme said he challenged his department heads to maintain existing levels of service as much as possible, address deferred capital and maintenance needs and include as many council-level goals as revenues allowed.
“In doing so,” Treme said in his message, “I realized it would be difficult, if not impossible, to fully cover all areas adequately.”
Greta Connor, who heads the Neighborhood Alliance group, said three different studies since 1999 concluded that run-down housing in Salisbury was a citywide problem. Many of the concerns, including crime, relate to rental housing, she said.
City officials should not postpone addressing the problem, Connor said, and she noted that recommendations from the previous studies have always mentioned, among other things, the need for more code enforcement.
Many representatives from various neighborhoods in Salisbury attended the hearing.
Barbara Perry, chairman of the Community Appearance Commission, reminded the council that one of its top one or two goals since 1999 has been to improve city neighborhoods and maintain safety in those areas.
James Donaldson, a resident of the Jersey City neighborhood, also urged the council to fund an additional code enforcement officer in the budget. It took 10 years, Donaldson said, but increased enforcement in his neighborhood improved things.
“It does work,” he said.
Sarah Hawkins, a Grady Street resident, said Salisbury citizens should not have to suffer because others don’t see the need to take care of their properties.
Bill Safrit said it’s a critical situation. In taking a tour of some neighborhoods, Safrit said, he saw houses that weren’t fit for animals to live in, let alone humans.
“Certainly, there’s such as thing as priorities,” Safrit said of setting a budget that would hire an additional code enforcement officer.
Betty Carli, head of Residents of Olde Salisbury, said the fringes of the West Square Historic District have properties that are deteriorating and a large part of the problem is absentee landlords.
“I just think we need to do this for our town,” she said of adding more code enforcement.
William Peoples, a North Fulton Street resident, said too many houses in the city are boarded up or burned out, without having been addressed by codes enforcement.
Peoples and others also complained about the possibility of the 9.7 percent increase in water-sewer bills. Higher utility bills and bus fares will be hitting low-income households the hardest, Peoples said.
Lenny Wolfe, a Milford Hills resident, said the city has been raising water-sewer rates an average of 5.125 percent a year over the past five years. The 10 percent increase will be difficult on older citizens, Wolfe said, suggesting that 25 percent of the city’s population is on Social Security.
He noted how people are already struggling with high gasoline prices and increasing natural gas bills.
Clyde Overcash also objected to a water-sewer rate increase, along with possibly having to pay higher recycling and landfill fees.
He called the city’s recycling efforts “pathetic” and described the program as a failure.
A disabled man who relies on city buses said his monthly costs would more than double under the budget proposal to increase fares. “That is our main source of transportation,” the East Winds resident said.
A woman bus rider also asked council to reconsider a fares increase.
Three people spoke for city funding of the Students in Training program in which youth rebuild and recycle computers.
Clara Corry reiterated the Salisbury-Rowan Human Relations Council’s request for a full-time coordinator or director. The $70,000-a-year position would have to be jointly funded by the city and county.
Michael Young, a downtown property owner, asked that the city take the lead in making repairs to alleys and parking areas that are in bad shape in the central business district.
Recognizing that it wasn’t necessarily a budget issue, Fred Evans of West Monroe Street said he was concerned about the appearance of the U.S. Post Office at East Innes Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue.
“It’s not a tidy place,” Evans said. He added that he knows it’s not a city facility but asked whether the city could encourage federal authorities to clean up the Post Office property.
Evans also expressed a concern about youth who are constantly asking people for money in the East Innes Street area as they make a circuit among places such as Bojangles, K-mart, Cook Out and the Post Office.
Peoples said he was concerned about the number of times police are called to the Wilco/Hess gas station at 500 E. Innes St. Since January 2007, police have had more than 2,600 calls to that area, Peoples said.
“When are we going to do something about that place?” he asked.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263 or mwineka@salisburypost.com.

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