The Emporia City Commission discussed potential updates to its property maintenance codes during its study session Wednesday morning.
Chief building inspector Kory Krause reported to the commission that in recent years the Code Services Department had received an increasing number of complaints regarding poor living conditions in rental properties. However, the city’s current property codes are limited and seriously restrict what can be enforced, leaving the city with very few options for how it can assist its citizen renters.
“The extent of our current interior maintenance codes allows inspection to only look at five sections or eight items,” he said. “This is the extent of Emporia’s minimum housing code and violations that we can address. These are, at best, very minimal violation concerns and only represent a small portion of issues.”
Krause advocated that the city adopt the International Property Maintenance Code, which would expand the facets of a property that codes could address as well as the city’s enforcement capability. The proposal includes maintenance codes related to interior structure, plumbing, mechanical equipment, electrical equipment and fire safety.
“The city needs a better solution to better protect the health and safety and welfare of our renters while they’re living within our city limits,” he said. “We, as the city, really should have a more effective means of identifying and correcting situations for rental properties.”
Around 45% of residential structures in city limits are rentals and 41% of those are owned by outside individuals, Krause said. However, Emporia is the only Kansas city that hosts a state university and has not adopted the IPMC. Additionally, it is one of only three of the state’s 20 First Class cities with more than 19,000 people that do not use the IPMC.
The commissioners were in agreement that new codes were needed, especially since the current codes leave city staff unable to do much for people living in unsatisfactory conditions.
“Right now, there are no tools in the box, so at least we could put some tools in the box,” said Commissioner Susan Brinkman.
Mayor Rob Gilligan suggested that, if the new codes were to be adopted, they should be implemented soon because he did not expect many landlords to be proactive about making the needed changes to their properties. Most likely, he believes landlords will make corrections as complaints come in and so the sooner the new codes could be put in place, the better for Emporia’s renters.
“Right now, we’re tying the hands of our city officials who can’t react because we don’t have a tool to react with,” he said. “And so my thought would be, the sooner we can adopt this and implement it, the sooner we can begin that process.”
Commissioner Danny Giefer was also in favor of the proposal but clarified that it would not be a cure-all measure.
“It’s a great start,” he said. “Is it going to solve all the programs? By no means. But it’s a step in the right direction.”
In other business, finance director Janet Harrouff addressed the commission in regard to the $3,731,906 the city had received from the federal government through the American Rescue Plan Act. She explained that the funds could be used for revenue replacement for the provision of government services affected by COVID-19, providing assistance to cover the negative economic impact of the pandemic, premium pay for essential workers and investments in water, sewer and broadband infrastructures.
Commissioners asked about pay for essential workers and Harrouff said that those who qualify are those whose total salary — including overtime — is less than $61,000. There are 60 city staff who make more than that.
Gilligan said he thought it would be best if the commission directed those funds to be of the greatest benefit to the highest number of citizens.
“My suggestion would be, as we’re having these conversations, that we should be thinking strategically about how to most benefit citizens in a broad scope, for the community and making investments long term,” he said.
Brinkman noted that the commission should be mindful that it does not designate these funds for projects where grant dollars are available.
The commission will continue to discuss this in future sessions.
The commission also:
F Heard a request from Judge Ted Hollembeak to be reappointed for another four years as the city’s municipal judge.
F Heard an update from Public Works director Dean Grant on the rehabilitation efforts on Lift Station No. 2.