Code Enforcement and Downtown Vacant Properties

As we work on finalizing our new city Master Plan and develop priorities and new goals for the city, code enforcement and occupancy of vacant buildings continues to move up the priority list for City Council.

We’ve looked at this in downtown and now through our housing committee. Council has added new tools for the monitoring and enforcement of vacant and non-compliant properties, and they have directed staff to add additional code enforcement staff starting later this summer to assist in continuing to clean up all areas of the city.

On April 4, 2019 City Council adopted a Vacant Property ordinance. The Vacant Property Ordinance establishes a program for identifying and registering vacant property within the City’s Downtown Urban Core Central (UC-C) Zoning District. The ordinance was put into place to address properties that potentially present a fire hazard, provide temporary occupancy by transients, detract from private and/or public efforts to rehabilitate or maintain surrounding buildings, or properties that present a hazard to the health, safety and welfare of the public in the downtown area.

Since the adoption of the Vacant Property Ordinance, the Division of Police’s Code Enforcement team & Economic Development’s Zoning Division have combined forces and formed the “Central Avenue Task Force”. Starting on Monday, June 16th, the Task Force will be focusing their efforts in Downtown Middletown, specifically those properties located in the City’s UC-C Urban Core Central zoning district in conjunction with the ordinance.

The Task Force will work block by block to try to make contact and work with all property owners that have any Building or Zoning code violation issues and/or permitting issues. Code enforcement issues can pertain to property maintenance concerns such as tall grass, trash, peeling paint, signage, etc.

Recently on June 4, 2019 the City Council reviewed and approved an ordinance to enact Chapter 214 (Code Compliance: Civil Offenses & Fines) and amend Sections 1436.06 (Remedial Action) and 1436.99 (Penalty) of the Middletown Codified Ordinances.

The Task Force will work with property owners in hopes to work with them and give them an opportunity to abate any code violation issues. However, if they choose to ignore the problem, they can then be cited into to court for the violation. This civil penalties are designed to give city officials an alternative to criminal court and convicting violators of a crime, but still impose a penalty. Any city official (i.e. patrol officer, code inspector, etc.) that is charged with the enforcement of the Middletown Codified Ordinances may issue a notice of violation in relation to the code that the official enforces, and then issue a civil fine to a person found not to have complied with the violation notice instead of citing them into court.

We will work with any resident or business owner to resolve their violations. There is an easy way to never get on our radar…keep your property in compliance with the codes of the city.  There’s an easy way to get us to go away if you’ve received a Notice of Violation…correct the problem or work with us on a reasonable timetable to correct the problem.

There has been some concern over using new tools to clean up the city. Many of the arguments I’ve heard remind me of the concerns with the red light cameras. There was always a 100% foolproof way to never get a red light camera ticket… don’t run the light.  This is no different.

Cleaning up our city is just that…we have to clean it up. Everyone. Everywhere. Over time. Work with us and we’ll all be fine and the city will improve.

 

City Summer Events

It’s going to be a busy summer in the City with events happening regularly around town. There’s a community calendar on the City website: City Community Calendar to submit your own event and scope out what is happening any day of the week in Middletown.

Some upcoming highlights are:

This Saturday, June 1 from noon – 7 p.m., Middletown Division of Police will be hosting their second annual Jeep-N-Eats at 1027 Manchester Ave. (Downtown) Food, Music, Kids cool activities and lots of awesome Jeeps. 250 last year to be exact!

A new City event this year, Summer Adventure Night. This will be a free, family friendly event with Columbus Zoo animals visiting, as well as Trooper the dog, along with inflatable play areas and face painting for kids. More details here: Summer Adventure Night

Always a summer favorite, the Bash just kicked off last week!

5:30 – 9:30 pm at Governor’s Square downtown Middletown

Free and open to the public

May 22

June 5

June 19

July 3 (Fireworks, Festival)

July 17

July 31

Aug 14

 

We welcome the Ohio Challenge Balloon Fest back to Middletown again this year.

July 19 and 20

Smith Park

 

Summer Movies in the Park

7 pm pre-show, 8:30 snacks, 9 pm show

Free and open to the public

June 7 Downtown

June 21 Goldman Park

July 12 Douglas Park

July 26 Goldman Park

August 2 Downtown

August 16 Goldman Park

September 6 Downtown

Don’t forget one of the biggest events of the year in Middletown, the Middletown Police National Night Out. MPD has moved it to Smith Park to accommodate the crowds. Last year almost 5,000 people attend. This year it will be Thursday, August 6th. Stay tuned for more news!

Hops in the Hangar

August 10 at Middletown Regional Airport

 

Enjoy the summer in your hometown!

First Quarter 2019 Departmental Reports

Staff has turned in their departmental reports for the first quarter of 2019. As always, I’m amazed at how much work gets done quietly and without fanfare throughout the city.

During the First Quarter of this year, January through March….

Human Resources processed 20 new city employees and processed out 11 employees leaving employment with the city.

In the Division of Fire, calls for fire service were down significantly from first quarter this year (624) compared to the same time in 2018 (809). EMS runs were slightly up for the same quarter, 2,356 in 2018, compared to 2,417 this year during the same time period.  Opiate overdoses continue to drop, with 92 reported during the first quarter this year, compared to 130 for the same period in 2018.  As the opiate crisis abates, we are starting to track more closely drug overdoses of all kinds to better understand addiction in the city.

Building Inspection processed 331 new permits with a construction value of $5,526,396, and completed 982 inspections during the first quarter. That number included 13 new single family residences to be built.

Middletown Division of Police continues to see drops in most crime. Part One crimes, the most serious crimes, were reported 682 times during the first quarter measured against 677 reported crimes for the first quarter of 2018.  Theft related crime continues to drop and the first quarter showed an unusual spike in assaults (55 now vs. 18 last year 1st quarter). Calls for service continue to decline from 8,892 in 2018, down to 8,207 in 2019 year to date.  The reduction in calls for service allows our officers to be more proactive in preventing crime and we hope the trend continues.

The Law Department reviewed 57 contracts and prepared 34 pieces of legislation for City Council’s consideration, and the Municipal Court and Prosecutors worked on 2,675 open cases including 248 felonies, 820 misdemeanors, 83 OVI (drunk driving) cases, and 1,524 traffic cases.

The Health Department year to date inspected 96 food service operations, handled 25 animal bites, completed 6 indigent cremations, issued 1,338 birth certificates and issued 954 death certificates.

Public Works completed repairs on 149 traffic signals, spent 316 hours working special events in the city, and completed cleaning of 350 linear feet of sewer mains.   They’ve treated 2,303 million gallons of wastewater, repaired 15 water mains, and produced 831 million gallons of drinking water.

That’s a lot of work by a lot of dedicated people. I’m proud of my staff and the work that they accomplish every day. Have a great week!

Smart Cities and Downtown WiFi

The City of Middletown has spent several months looking at Smart City concepts and their potential applications to our city.  The possibilities are almost as endless as the number of apps available for your smart phone. And the technology and the ideas are exploding exponentially as new ideas come online (pun intended!).

Cities around the country are looking at items such as smart street lighting, wireless surveillance cameras, smart parking meters, real time traffic control and traffic light operations, technology that triangulates where gunshots are fired from, free public WiFi, parking solutions where computers monitor the number of open spaces in public parking lots and direct people to open lots, transit options that show buses in real time and the number of minutes until the bus arrives at your stop and on and on.

Some of these concepts are designed to move people more quickly and more safely, while others are designed to save the municipality money in operating costs through efficiency.

All of this really cool “stuff” requires significant broadband access including usually fiber optic cable nearby.  As we work on the new Master Plan, part of that plan will likely include some use of this new technology and capacity built over time through multiple year’s budgets.

City Council believes in the concepts and applications that encompass being a “smart city.”  To start the process, we looked at a limited project of bringing free WiFi access to downtown Middletown in the Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area (DORA).

After talking to multiple vendors, we selected Cincinnati Bell to implement this first project. They will be working with downtown businesses to set up a WiFi network downtown this summer. Once completed, you should be able to log onto the City’s free WiFi network while you are enjoying downtown activities.

We are also exploring adding WiFi access at Smith Park. We have a number of large events in the park each year with soccer tournaments, the Ohio Balloon Challenge, the Fourth of July fireworks and other activities. We are looking to design a network that can be turned on and off as events take place. If we have a soccer tournament one week from Thursday through Sunday, we can “flip the switch” and turn the WiFi network on Wednesday night, operate it and pay for the network use through Sunday, and then turn it back off on Monday morning after everyone is gone.

Beyond these two projects, we’ll be exploring how we can utilize this new technology through out the city over time. Council will set the objectives and the priorities for implementation and then we’ll incorporate new pieces into the budget as directed by Council each year.

 

City Park Updates

During the Great Recession, the City cut back on so many services. The upkeep and modernization of our city parks was one of the early cuts on the expenditure chopping block. For the past decade, we’ve tried mostly to keep the parks mowed and the equipment functional, but it has been predominately a passive park system. It’s there if you want to use it.

As revenues slowly improve over time, we’re working on getting our parks back in top form again. As you use the parks this year, you should see visible improvements; some large, some smaller, to your favorite city parks.  Below are some of the projects we are working on this year.

We are also working on a modest recreation program for this summer. It will be limited to small periods of summer time and at limited parks, but it’s our first expenditures on recreation in over a decade. Our hope is to slowly expand in each future year’s budget to offer better park experiences and more recreational opportunities throughout the city each year moving forward.

Smith Park: New playground equipment (now open!), Earth Day activities park-wide including: painting signs, and electric boxes, painting the fence at playground equipment, planting new pollinator landscape beds, litter removal around pond and throughout the park, landscape beds clean up, and mulching.

Douglass Park: Pilot donated funding for two new shade canopies for the picnic areas by the splash pad.

Play toys repaired at a number of parks, including Damon, Sherman, and Gardner.

Sunset Park: New play equipment, site amenities and furnishings, with the upcoming construction of the GI Basin.

Earth Day activities coming up in parks:

Lefferson Park: Litter pickup, mulch trees along Breiel, paint signs, clean up playground (10)

Douglass Park: Trash removal, pick up sticks

Douglass Park Garden: Litter pickup, sign painting, cleanup community center area and paint indoor or outdoor rooms

Gardner Park: Trash removal along tree line

Bull’s Run: Work with staff to clean up throughout the nature preserve

Armbruster Nature Preserve: Trash removal end of Autumn Dr., pick up sticks along trail and at left side of road, plant bed cleanup at sign, honeysuckle removal

Bicentennial Commons: Clean up along the river bank

Hazardous trees have been removed from multiple parks. Grounds will be planting approximately 30 trees throughout a number of parks this upcoming year as well.

Parks is constantly making repairs to play equipment, replacing nets, and cleaning up the parks.

Heroin Summit

A few years ago, the City of Middletown partnered with Atrium Medical Center to bring the community together to collectively tackle the scourge of heroin through a series of community summits.

That group has met more than a dozen times and out of those summits came changes in the manner in which law enforcement tackles drug trafficking, new drug education programs, a better understanding of how best to respond to a drug overdose with EMS service, and new best practices including the heroin response team, drug court and a needle exchange.

Not all of the programs were popular with the community, but doing the right thing has paid off. As we ended 2018, opiate overdoses were down 49% for the year, putting us below 2016 and 2017 numbers.  Opiate overdose deaths are down 31%.  We’ve seen a 73% reduction in the use of Narcan and the cost savings associated with reduced use.

Additionally, MPD saw a reduction of more than 17,000 calls for service in 2018.  Serious crime is down in the city, as is theft related crime. EMS runs for overdoses are also down.  The reduction in overdoses in the city has multiple positive effects.

While the opiate epidemic is far from over, we are seeing positive results at a time when other communities are still seeing rises in opiate related OD’s and deaths.

I would like to personally thank Atrium Medical Center for their leadership on this issue and I would also like to thank the community members who have stood with me throughout this fight. It wouldn’t have happened without all of your help.

With the reduction in opiate use come a new threat. As we are learning, addiction takes many forms. Some of the addicts who realized that heroin would kill them eventually, have switched over to meth. While that means that fewer people are dying and EMS runs for overdoses have eased off, we still see addiction in the city. In the past, our narcotics unit would see local meth labs and shut them down. The disturbing trend now is that meth is coming in already processed, more pure than locally produced, and cheaper than it can be made locally.

We held the latest Heroin Summit on January 28th. As we continue to monitor and adapt to new threats from heroin and fentanyl, the group is expanding its reach from a heroin summit to a more focused approach on addiction in general.  While heroin forced us all to the battlefield, we see now that addiction comes in many forms and many causes.   Some addicts who are getting treatment are successfully beating their addiction. Others just traded a deadly heroin habit for a less lethal drug of choice. Only when we can deal with the underlying causes of addiction in mental health, trauma and other causes, will we start to see an improvement in the overall health of the community as a whole.

The great people who have worked with me throughout this epidemic insisted that we step forward again to work on getting help for addiction throughout Middletown. I’m inspired by their dedication, and we look forward to expanding our work.

 

 

 

Welcome to 2019

So 2018 is now part of the history books. Record income tax revenues and strong reductions in crime. New business openings….

“Yeah, Adkins, but what have you done for me lately?”

2019 is the final year of planning. Community Visioning is done. The Downtown Master Plan is done. The updated Zoning/Development Code is done. Middletown Division of Fire has completed a new Strategic Plan.

The Airport Master Plan is underway. The Transportation Master Plan is getting underway as we speak. Later in the year, we’ll start a Parks Master Plan.

All of that will get folded into the first City Master Plan since 2005. This plan is built on the question “what do you want to be” not “what have we done in the past.” It is built to focus us on relevant projects that move the city forward into the future.

I spent a lot of my time in 2018 talking about housing. After meeting with the Housing Committee in early January, I will now start drafting a new Housing Policy for the city to modernize our housing stock, bring families back to Middletown, and if successful, start raising the values of your homes.

We transferred code enforcement down to police for 2019. They will be working with Major Warrick to continue to clean up the city and to work on strict enforcement of our chronic nuisance ordinance. If you are a problem in your neighborhood, we are going to be knocking on your door.

In January, I reviewed the eviction data from Middletown Municipal Court for 2018. Our 10 worst landlords filed a collective 514 evictions in 2018.  Our worst landlord had 184 evictions alone. In 2018, in the City of Middletown and over one year only, we had 2 tenants who were evicted 7 times each, 1 tenant evicted 6 times, 7 tenants who were evicted 5 times, 7 tenants who were evicted 4 times, 22 tenants who were evicted 3 times, and 90 tenants who were evicted twice in the same year. That is simply not screening your tenants for criminal activity and credit worthiness, and we will not continue to put up with poor behaviors by landlords or tenants in our neighborhoods.

We are working hard to build on prior success and to bring this community fully back to prosperity for all of our residents.  Our school district is running hard right along side of us, changing the way education is thought about and taught to our kids.  I’m proud to lead your city, and I hope you are proud to be a Middie.

See you out in the community in 2019.  #ThisIsWe.