Monday, April 15, 2024

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Staff task force reports back to council on response to problems near Rainey St.


A resident’s complaints about crime, junk, and dilapidation in one Burlington neighborhood have given city officials an opportunity to spotlight a crack force of city staff members that they’ve created to address this very sort of conundrum.

During a city council work session on Monday, Chris Marland, the city’s chief code enforcement officer, explained precisely how this “neighborhood enhancement team” has tried to cut through the Gordian knot of concerns that a resident along Burlington’s Rainey Street recently brought to the council’s attention.

Marland told the council that the scene of this resident’s complaints was an ideal proving ground for this staff-level detail.

“The neighborhood enhancement team is a multi-departmental staff group that works together to assess areas of concern which are usually brought to us by you, the council,” he explained during the work session. “I’m the coordinator for that. It also includes police, the department of transportation, community engagement, public works, and any others that we have to drag in.”

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Marland recalled that, in this case, the team’s members mustered their respective skills on behalf of an area near the resident’s home along Rainey Street, which included also portions of North Main, Grace, Washington, and particularly Ireland streets.

The city’s chief code inspector noted that this area has offered plenty of fodder for his own staff in the city’s code enforcement division. So far, he said that he and his colleagues have taken formal action to deal with two dilapidated outbuildings, three substandard homes, and two abandoned dwellings – including one house with a gaping hole in the side that had apparently been assigned to a code enforcement officer who has since left the city’s employ.

Marland said that the code enforcement staff has also opened files on three junked cars, three instances of unpermitted repairs or improvements, six cases of excessive trash and debris, and one vehicle that had been illegally parked in the grass.

“We will continue to monitor the area proactively looking for cases,”
Marland then yielded the floor to assistant police chief Alan Balog, who recounted his own department’s role in the interagency effort.

Balog said that the city’s police force began its work by touching base with a few residents, who he said he was delighted to find took a great deal of pride in their neighborhood. These residents also pointed out areas of concern that the police department has tried to address.
“We have increased our officer presence in the neighborhood, and so far, we have seen a reported crime reduction of 25 percent.”

Balog said that, over the long term, he’d like to reactivate the neighborhood’s community watch group, which had dissipated during the coronavirus pandemic and even install security cameras as part of a broader citywide initiative.

The council also heard additional reports from Gary Smith, the city’s public works director, and its transportation director Mike Nunn.

Nunn told the council that his own department’s part in this venture has been to replace damaged and deteriorated street signs and streetlights.

Meanwhile, Smith expounded on his staff’s litter collection efforts in the Rainey Street area. He also described his department’s regular litter collection efforts, which include clean up details in response to calls from the community.

Smith noted that the past couple of months have been particularly busy for the staff members tasked with litter collection.

“For a couple of weeks, it was every day,” he added, “and it’s all over the city – no particular area; no rhyme or reason; it’s a lot.”

Smith’s account of his staff’s never-ending struggle with litter raised some concerns for city councilmember Kathy Hykes about the indifference of the residents who are dispersing this garbage.

“I feel like a school marm bringing this up,” she admitted. “But I worry about what’s the personal responsibility for people in the city.”

Meanwhile, the staff’s coordinated response to the problems around Rainey Street proved a generally hopeful development for Burlington’s mayor Jim Butler, who had originally mobilized the neighborhood enhancement team to deal with these issues.

“The silo structure of some municipalities makes it very difficult to get a problem handled comprehensively,” he acknowledged. “So, I’ve really got to applaud everyone at the staff level for their multi-department communication…What’s been done so far has exceeded my expectations.”

Coverage of earlier discussion at city council on Rainey Street problems:

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