Warning letters still need final touches

LISBON — Councilman Peter Wilson continues to work on sending out “friendly warning” letters to owners of dilapidated homes, a job he agreed to take on six weeks ago.

The subject came up at this week’s Village Council meeting, with Wilson saying he expected to have the letters ready to be approved for mailing at the Aug. 28 meeting. The purpose of the letters is to advise owners of homes in disrepair to correct the problems or face being fined by the village.

Wilson said he has a draft of the proposed letter he wants to mail but before bringing it to council he wants the missive to be reviewed by village Solicitor Megan Bickerton.

Wilson believes there needs to be a sense of urgency when enforcing the village’s residential and commercial building maintenance laws, and he has raised the issue at every council meeting for the past several months. Finally, at the June 26 meeting, Mayor Joseph Morenz told Wilson to send out the home maintenance letters himself, and he agreed.

Morenz later resigned, effective July 31, citing high blood pressure issues. He said Wilson played a role in his decision.

Wilson was asked after this week’s meeting what would he say if someone suggested he was guilty of moving too slowly in following through on his new responsibility?

“That’s fair,” he said, adding that at first he thought Morenz was not serious and only being sarcastic when he told him to assume responsibility for sending out the letters. Since learning that Morenz was indeed serious, he visited East Liverpool and Salem to get copies of their warning letters and learn how they are enforced. Those cities have full-time departments that do this, while Lisbon only has a part-time mayor and part-time zoning inspector.

Wilson has also been trying to compile a list of properties based on what he has seen and been advised of by residents. He is also checking with the street department to determine what abandoned properties it is mowing and with police Chief Mike Abraham, whose department has also issued warning letters under a different law advising residents to clean up their properties.

Any citations about the structural integrity of any of these properties posing a public hazard would have to be issued by the fire inspector, while the Columbiana County Health Department is responsible for public health complaints. “I can’t cite anyone, so all I’m doing is warning them they could be cited,” Wilson explained.

Wilson said he only assumed responsibility because no one else appeared interested in doing so. “I don’t think a councilman should be doing this. It should come from the administration, but no one wanted to do it,” he said.

The “administration” consists of a part-time mayor, his part-time secretary, the part-time zoning inspector and part-time village solicitor. The full-time village administrative positions have other duties, such as the fiscal officer, income tax administrator, water and sewer clerk, police chief, street supervisor and cemetery supervisor.

The status of other “friendly warning” letters also came up at this week’s council meeting. The third round of building maintenance letters were mailed out by Morenz before he stepped down, and these letters state the village is prepared to begin taking action in September if the central business district property owners who are in violation fail to comply.

The village has yet to mail out letters to owners of vacant business properties advising them of the new village law passed in February requiring they make some effort to find a tenant or sell the property. Wilson said Morenz had asked him to review the form letter that had prepared, and it is his understanding the draft has yet to be given to Bickerton for review.