ROCKINGHAM —The Rockingham City Council on Tuesday unanimously voted to hold a public hearing May 14 on an ordinance that would cut the city’s code enforcement jurisdiction by 12.3 percent after city staff found these areas to be too costly to maintain.
An ETJ, or extraterritorial jurisdiction, is an area outside of city limits where a city can enforce its planning and zoning regulations, building codes, public nuisance laws, housing standards and handle abandoned structures in an effort to attract growth and could potentially lead to the areas being annexed. Residents of these areas do not pay city taxes, vote in municipal elections, or receive other city services.
The council voted to cut the areas in question after 40 years of them being a part of the ETJ based on research by city staff which showed poor growth projections. The areas to be removed are along the outer edge of the ETJ and include the Beverly Hills area, portions of the Roberdel area, portions of Philadelphia, the remaining portions of East Rockingham in the ETJ which includes Hannah Picket, Aleo and Jefferson Park, and the area between Midway Road and the offshoot of Little Carr Creek that runs behind Superior Cranes.
“We don’t seem to be keeping pace with the number of houses that need to be demolished,” Assistant City Manager John Massey said before the council Tuesday. “It seems like every week the inspector’s coming in with complaints and photos of another house that’s been abandoned or fallen into a state of disrepair.”
The City of Rockingham budgets about $35,000 each year to deal with the code enforcement responsibilities of its ETJ, and over the last three-and-a-half years, the city has spent about $191,000 total — going over budget nearly every year — demolishing buildings in the ETJ, according to Massey. During that same time span, city staff found that the city issued a total of 107 citations for code violations, 72 of which were within this area. Of those, 22 cost the city $27,000 to abate, compared to the $5,100 total spent abating properties in the rest of the city’s jurisdiction.
The city has completed 10 demolitions in the current fiscal year, according to Massey, which is the most he could recall in his tenure.
Massey said the city has identified several large buildings which are on the brink of needing abatement which could cost the city two to three times its annual budget each. Other factors that contributed to the city staff recommending this cut are the declining local economy over the last 30 years, a lack of vacant land tracks for development, and changes in state law dating back to 2011 which limit opportunities for municipal annexations.
City Manager Monty Crump called the inability of municipalities to annex property an “unintended consequence” of a “poor state law”.
Another factor in the move to cut the ETJ is the county starting to charge the city’s nuisance abatement contractor tipping fees at the landfill over the last year, which hasn’t been done in Massey’s 20 years with the city. Massey said he’s gotten “no clear answer” from the county as to why the contractor has started being charged a fee, and added that fee isn’t required every time the contractor uses the landfill.
Public Works Director Jerry Austin could not be reached for comment by press time Wednesday.
Mayor Steve Morris said the county didn’t charge previously because the efforts of the city to maintain the ETJ were the only code enforcement being done outside of city limits until the county began code enforcement in the early 2000’s.
“Now that we have to bear the burden of this land without the city getting any tax revenue or anything else available it’s a little hard for our taxpayers to have to take on,” Morris said.
The ordinance will go into effect on Oct. 1, barring the results of the public hearing. The areas cut will then become the county’s responsibility. County Planner Tracy Parris said she doesn’t yet have the “full picture” of the financial impact the responsibility of the more than 1,300 properties cut from Rockingham’s ETJ.
“The county would inherit the same issues and costs associated that the City of Rockingham is trying to alleviate, (in addition to) what we currently (maintain),” Parris said. “Much of the area being considered is densely populated with smaller lot sizes and structures are close in proximity.”