Spencer residents want to reinstate code enforcement officer

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 11, 2012

By Emily Ford
SPENCER — Saying the town’s appearance has suffered since the code enforcement position was cut last year, residents asked the Board of Aldermen to restore the post.
Rundown property, overgrown shrubbery, junky porches, backyard chickens and more are giving Spencer a black eye, said Eric Lentz, speaking on behalf of the town’s Community Appearance Commission.
The problems are “like a growing cancer throughout our beautiful, historic town,” Lentz told aldermen Tuesday.
If left unchecked, the unsightly yards, tarp-covered roofs and barking dogs will decrease property values and give visitors a negative impression of the town, he said.
“We need to restore consumer confidence and renew interest in restoring historic properties and regain the pride in our community,” he said.
Since the town cut the full-time code enforcement officer to balance the budget, Dustin Wilson, the Spencer Land Management Services director, has taken over code enforcement.
Spencer averages about 600 code violations per year.
Resident Bob Oswald added feral cats to Lentz’s list, as well as problems with rental housing and dilapidated historic downtown buildings.
Code enforcement has become one of the most pressing and contentious budget issues in Spencer. After the meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Jim Gobbel said he’s willing to raise the property tax rate to reinstate the code enforcement officer.
“That’s what I’m hearing from constituents,” Gobbel said.
At a recent budget workshop, aldermen discussed several options.
Alderman Jeff Morris suggested the town ask Rowan County for proposals to provide code enforcement, planning and land management services. Morris said he wants to compare the county’s price with Spencer’s current land management budget.
China Grove, the only municipality that contracts with the county for planning services, pays Rowan $18,000 a year. That fee will increase to $25,000 next year, County Manager Gary Page told Spencer aldermen at the budget workshop.
Gobbel cast the lone no vote on Morris’ motion, saying he favors keeping land management services in-house and reinstating the code enforcement officer.
Mayor Jody Everhart then suggested asking Salisbury for a proposal to compare with the county’s. Gobbel made the motion, which passed unanimously.
Alderman Reid Walters suggested a fourth alternative — hiring a police officer to work 30 hours per week on code enforcement.
Morris and Alderman Scott Benfield said they oppose any tax rate increase.
“Outsourcing land management and code enforcement is not the answer,” Lentz said Tuesday.
Smith asked Lentz if he had reported the code violations he listed and if any had been corrected.
Lentz conferred with Marla Gobbel, another member of the Community Appearance Commission and wife of Jim Gobbel. They said some violations have been reported, and some were taken care of while others were not.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

In other action
• Town Manager Larry Smith said the town does not expect the N.C. Transportation Museum to renew a $26,000 security contract for the coming year. The museum is scheduled to lose all state funding for operations on July 1, although groups are lobbying the N.C. General Assembly to restore $401,000.
Smith said the town will not have to cut a police officer, despite the loss of the contract. 
• Mulch should be available by the end of the month. The public works department needs a third quote and then can award the project to the lowest bidder.
• Spencer Police Chief Michael James introduced new Police Officer James Cayer.
• Three-quarters of the way through the fiscal year, which ends June 30, the town has collected 82 percent of revenues and spent 69 percent of expenditures.
• The town will apply for Small Town Main Street again this year. If awarded, the program would cost Spencer about $5,000.
• The deadline is April 18 to apply for a booth or sponsorship for the town’s Arbor Day celebration, set for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 28. All profits will go to the Spencer Woods project.
The event will feature recycling and other environmental issues.
Mayor Jody Everhart volunteered to lead the food fundraising effort, with all profits going to Spencer Woods.
• The Community Appearance Commission banquet was a success, thanks to Chairman Lynn Plummer.
• The Town Board adopted a resolution for regional mutual aid in the event of a natural disaster like a hurricane.
• The Town Board adopted a proclamation recognizing April 24 as Women’s Club Federation Day in honor of the Spencer Woman’s Club 70th anniversary this year.
• Road paving priorities are 17th Street off Salisbury Avenue to the curve, 15th Street apron off Salisbury Avenue, Carolina Avenue from 11th to Eighth Street, Rowan Avenue from 11th to Eighth Street. Fourth Street is a high priority but has been designated a long-term project due to storm water concerns.
Paving Charles Street from the school to Salisbury Avenue will be delayed until the I-85 bridge is complete due to dump truck traffic.
• No action was taken after a closed session for an update on litigation.
• The May meeting was rescheduled to 7 p.m. May 15 due to the election.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.