City council tables rental ordinance

FAIRMONT – After a three-hour marathon of testimony from both sides of the issue, a proposed ordinance establishing standards for rental housing remains in limbo following the Fairmont City Council meeting Monday.

A motion to postpone voting on the ordinance to allow time for revisions passed on a 4-1 vote, with Councilman Chad Askeland dissenting.

“I do want an ordinance. I just don’t want this one,” said Councilman Terry Anderson.

“We want a better community, but if we don’t do this right, we’ve done a disservice to everybody involved,” Councilman Joe Kallemeyn said.

Councilman Wes Clerc agreed.

“This is very important to the City of Fairmont,” he said. “It’s very important to us as a council to do it right.”

Askeland disagreed with a delay.

“How long do we need to take?” he asked, adding he was “ready to approve tonight.”

“We need to tweak it. It doesn’t mean we start over on it,” Clerc said.

“I don’t want to drag this out,” Councilman Darin Rahm said. “Let’s wrap it up sooner rather than later.”

Rahm admitted some passages in the ordinance “could be better written.”

The motion by Clerc with a second by Kallemeyn called for the revised ordinance to be introduced at the council’s April 14 meeting, followed by a public hearing and vote at the April 28 meeting.

“We’re not going to satisfy everybody,” Kallemeyn said.

Focus on Fairmont, a grassroots group, approached the council in October 2012 about the lack of a rental housing regulation, and the council directed the city staff to develop the ordinance.

Despite Mayor Randy Quiring’s request to keep comments under 3 minutes, a parade of landlords, tenants and homeowners came forward to present their views on the ordinance, with many of the statements echoing comments made at the first public hearing two weeks ago.

Proponents of the ordinance claimed that dilapidated rental properties pulled down the value of nearby houses. Homeowners living next door to rental properties stated they were victims of vandalism and witnesses to other criminal activities. One tenant referred to landlords as bullies.

On the other side, landlords stated that many parts of the ordinance were too vague or were already covered by existing local, state or federal regulations. They felt the complaints about criminal activity were police matters, and a landlord should not be criminalized for a tenant’s deeds.

“Our ordinance needs some work,” said Mike Humpal, city administrator. “It’s certainly a starting point to begin debate. It’s a step in the right direction.”

Council members encouraged the landlords and Focus on Fairmont members to meet and hammer out their difference and offered to join them in their efforts.

“This is about cooperation and communication,” Anderson said.

In other business, the council:

o Received a report on the 2014 proposed street improvements. In addition to various seal coats throughout the city, new construction will extend Charles Street, and Albion Avenue will be reconstructed from Lair Road to Oak Beach Drive.

o Denied a request from Dave Lutz for funding assistance for a demolition at 212 S. Hampton St. The council had previously denied Lutz’s request in November, but he provided additional information for the second request.

o Accepted a bid of $357 per acre from David Shumski for the Day Farm tract. The original lease holder defaulted based on financial insolvency so new bids were accepted.

o Proclaimed Feb. 15 as Hunger Awareness Day. There will be a Kids Against Hunger food pack at the Fairmont National Guard Armory that day, with a goal of $15,000 and 65,000 meals.

o Proclaimed Feb. 17-21 as School Board Recognition Week.