BELINGTON, W. Va. —Though not put on the agenda for first reading after being sent back by the Zoning Board of Appeals, the main discussion at Belington City Council’s meeting Thursday night was on the draft of a proposed “Occupancy and Entrance Permits” ordinance.
Council’s chambers filled with citizens and the meeting had to be moved upstairs to a larger space to accommodate the crowd.
Concerns ranged from the ambiguous wording in the draft, to whom the $25 permit fee would apply and other minimal requirements to be considered in compliance to the proposed ordinance.
One of the first questions council addressed was if current residents would have to apply for and hold a permit and pay a $25 dollar fee. According to council, the section under Occupancy which read “Any person, owner, or tenant occupying any property prior to the approval of this Belington Occupancy Permit shall come into compliance on or before [a year after the effective date after passage]” did not apply to current residents and they would not be monitored for compliance.
“Someone who’s already living here, I think, those folks, unless they’re on our list of having not paying their bills, we would assume that they are complying with the ordinance,” Max Grove, council member and author of the drafted ordinance said.
When asked about the wording of the draft not being clear, Grove responded “That wording then needs to be tweaked, right? Then that’s what the process is we’re going through right now and that’s why this should not have been out to the public at all. Probably, what I should have done was kept this on the computer and made all the tweaks over there.”
“If you’re going to read what I wrote originally and then back after I went back and made changes to that, so that I could present them to council with those changes, if you’re going to do that, then we’re never going to get an ordinance through,” he said. “Because you’re going to have them in here every week, every other week for the meeting.”
There was confusion among city council members as to if a document, draft or otherwise, is sent to a governmental board and is addressed in a public meeting –as was done with this draft by the Zoning Board of Appeals Wednesday– if that document can then be accessed by the public.
Changes had already been made to the draft with written notes on Grove’s copy of the draft which, among other things, allowed for the use of generators in a declared state of emergency and now also during a power outage which was not the fault of the landowner, changing the section under Property Maintenance pertaining to the demonstration of the ability and means to mow and trim grass and weeds to apply only when necessary and the correction of spelling errors.
As for the Zoning Board’s determination it could not rule on the ordinance, council said it was a miscommunication as they only requested the board look at the ordinance to detect any conflicts with existing zoning ordinances. For their concerns about the constitutionality of the bill based on information received from the city attorney, Grove said the opinion was based on a previous version of the ordinance.
“We had proposed an ordinance once before, I had written an ordinance once before that actually included the water as begin one item that we could withhold to get peole to pay their bill and they attorney comes back and says ‘You can’t do that, that’s unconstitutional.'”
Occupancy Permits issued with applications and fees currently are legal –in many municipalities in Pennsylvania, particularly– with Grove citing Monroeville, Pennsylvania as one inspiration for the intended purpose of Belington’s drafted ordinance.
The application, what Grove said was the one-time $25 fee and permit were targeted predominantly toward a certain demographic.
“We have to spend our money to put out these fires that slum landlords are creating by having people come in,” he said. “These people don’t contribute to the town at all. They pay no taxes, they come in and do [Housing and Urban Development programs] and sit on the couch and wait for their check.”
“We have an inherent culture of entitlement,” Grove said. “They’re coming from the other side of the mountain. They can not get HUD over in Virginia. They can’t get HUD there because they make too much money. They come here and qualify with a certificate, then they go back across the mountain and they can qualify over there.”
How the town would enforce the ordinance has not been determined as it was not addressed in the draft. Grove said enforcing the section regarding documentation of utility payments was a one-time occurrence as well.
“I think that’s called the honesty of the person, if they’re going to be honest about it,” he said. “But we’ll know if they don’t pay their [city] water bill, we’ll know if they’re not paying that one.”
As explained to them at city council’s meeting, a vocal majority called for the council to get rid of the ordinance all together and enforce the one’s currently in place which pertain to similar issues. Several council members said they would not vote for such an ordinance as drafted. Other citizens in attendance did take issues with a majority of the draft but did agree with some points.
“I do understand that certain ordinances have to be made so the town is cleaned up,” David Smith, Belington resident said. “The $25 fee? I have no problem with that. I really don’t, if it’s going to help enforce.”
Grove assured the language of the draft would be changed in further drafts and would not be put on the agenda until it addressed the public’s concerns and the wording reflected the council’s intent before going through three separate readings and a public hearing.
He estimated the ordinance could appear on first reading sometime in December.