Spencer, East Spencer turn private for code enforcement work

Published 12:05 am Sunday, March 15, 2020

By Shavonne Potts

EAST SPENCER — Any town can send a notice and a subsequent fine to a resident for disregarding code enforcement issues, but two local towns have taken a different approach by using an independent code enforcement company to assist residents with compliance issues.

In the previous few months, Alliance Code Enforcement (ACE) and its staff have worked to rid the towns of East Spencer and Spencer of junk vehicles, yard debris and dilapidated housing. Owner Brandon Emory, a former law enforcement detective, said Spencer asked for code enforcement services for a few months and then asked him to continue through the end of its current fiscal year.

Earlier this year, the company was asked to provide code enforcement as well as planning and zoning for East Spencer for 12 hours a week.

In almost two months, the company has opened 60 cases, numerous zoning requests and issued several permits for residents and businesses in East Spencer. Both towns have also had numerous inquiries, Emory said.

He said the idea is “to have a level of uniformity across the town where everybody is held to that same standard” and that code enforcement is not about issuing fines to generate revenue.

“We’re here to clean up a town. We’re here to ensure that the town properties and structures are safe and are habitable,” Emory said.

Lately, his primary focus has been on the housing issues in East Spencer.

“There’s a lot of stuff that has needed to be addressed for years and just hadn’t,” he said.

East Spencer Mayor Barbara Mallett said, previously, most of the town’s planning had been done through Joe Morris, a former city of Salisbury planning director who is working as the town’s planning director. Morris did more planning and less enforcement.

“We didn’t want the board to be involved in ticketing and we wanted to have a little more bite to what was happening in our town. We have an abundance of junk vehicles, maybe 10 or 20, who didn’t have insurance or tags,” Mallett said.

There was also extensive debris around houses, including furniture and dogs that were kept on front porches, she said.

Working with an independent code enforcement company, Mallett said, has brought the town closer to the goals of its economic development plan, with particular attention to the Long Street corridor.

“Why invite people to your home when you’re not ready in your front yard?” she said.

Mallett said the board is happy with Emory’s approach, which is not to put fear in its citizens but to work cooperatively to improve town’s appearance.

“I think since Brandon has started, we have seen some improvement. You just don’t change overnight,” Mallett said.

The company is contracted through the end of June.

Spencer Manager Dave Treme said the town hired Alliance Code Enforcement for about 50 hours a week of code enforcement at a cost that is equivalent to a full-time code enforcement employee. He said the town has been able to save money because it doesn’t need to pay retirement and health insurance benefits that it would for a town employee.

Treme said he was interested in hiring the company after recommendations from other communities, the company’s certifications and its relationship with the public. The company began working with the town in July 2019.

Treme admitted that in the past the town has received criticism for being too heavy-handed when it came to code enforcement.

“It is an ongoing process. We are constantly working on it. We continue to work on it. Certainly, we get complaints. We receive them and try to turn it around and give excellent customer service to our citizens,” he said.

Of the 506 cases with the town of Spencer as of Feb. 26, Emory estimates the company has an 82% completion rate. About 43 of the cases were unfounded — complaints that weren’t actually violations.

“We still don’t think we’ve reached perfection. The thing about that particular group, they have been really responsive to the town planner, me and responsive to the public and we hope to improve on what we’re doing now,” Treme said.

A town-wide cleanup called Spencer Cares is planned for April 21-25.  The hope with the cleanup is to “give citizens an opportunity the whole week to clean up our community for the spring. The mayor and board are interested in engaging with the public,” Treme said.

Contact reporter Shavonne Potts at 704-797-4253.