SEQUIM— Code enforcement in the city of Sequim might be retooled in the near future.
Following a new study, Stewardship Sequim: Recommendations for a clean, safe and vibrant Sequim, rental property owners might need to register each rental, residents could follow complaints through a new online resource and the city’s Code Enforcement program could be renamed Code Compliance.
A small group of civic leaders from across the country analyzed the city’s code enforcement practices as part of a project for the International City/County Management Association and created the study for Sequim.
Assistant City Manager Joe Irvin said staff submitted Code Enforcement for the Management Association’s leadership program as a project for civic leaders.
“Code enforcement is an area where we see some room for growth and we want to become more effective at doing it,” he said.
Irvin is one of a dozen civic leaders in the program set to graduate in the fall from the two-year program; however he worked on a separate project. Sequim’s Code Enforcement was analyzed by Janet Jimenez, assistant to the city manager in West Hollywood, Calif.; Brian Koral, city administrator for Riverside, Miss.; Chandler Merritt, chief of staff for Tarrant County, Texas; and Andrea Muskopf, assistant to the city manager in Clayton, Miss.
“It’s a report we take seriously and we’re going to work our way through the recommendations they provided,” Irvin said.
“We’ll work with a strategic approach and adequately address [recommendations] when resources and time are appropriate.”
For the study, the four civic leaders researched practices in similarly sized cities and conducted on-site interviews with stakeholders and staff, including Sequim’s Code Enforcement Officer Lisa Hopper who handles animal control, and parking and private property issues among other duties.
At the June 25 council meeting, City Manager Charlie Bush said the team’s analysis would have taken Sequim staff about two to three years to complete.
The team made six recommendations for Code Enforcement: Realign roles and responsibilities, create a Rental Property Registration Program, adopt the International Property Maintenance Code, use a dedicated software module/tracking system, tap into a Volunteer Assistance Program and create an Administrative Remedies Program.
Within those recommendations is the idea of rebranding Code Enforcement as Code Compliance.
Brian Koral, speaking on behalf of the civic leader team June 25, said the goal is to bring back people into compliance and that different wording sounds better to people.
“We’re building on what’s happening organically,” Koral said. “The goal is to keep [nonconforming residents] in the [Code Enforcement] process going.”
For realigning roles with Code Enforcement, the civic team recommended shifting it back to the Department of Community Development from the Sequim Police Department.
In the team’s report, it states nearly half of Hopper’s calls were animal issues while 25 percent were for property maintenance violations.
Koral said Code Enforcement can be more reactive in its approach, but for it “to be truly effective, it must include a balance of both proactive and reactive measures.”
Part of that, the municipal team states, is creating a housing inventory of rentals to better identify and deter property owners from engaging in deferred maintenance.
As part of the study’s recommended Rental Property Registration Program, property owners/landlords must register every rental unit annually.
“The goal is to see where properties are, who owns them and know who lives there and be in touch with the property owner,” Koral said.
Koral said there can be a fee or not attached to registration and if there is one it shouldn’t be passed onto the tenant.
“It’s not a revenue stream, but to get properties back to the community’s standards,” Koral said.
Sequim currently requires rental companies to obtain a business license but property owners renting their homes are not required to obtain one.
For any Rental Property Registration Program to occur in city limits, the City Council must approve a new ordinance including policies for inspections and registration.
The municipal team reports that a Code Enforcement software program can make tracking violations and scheduling inspections easier while providing geo-location services to better track possible troubled areas.
Businesses and residents who file issues can also track their request via certain programs too, the team reports.
“We want citizens to trust the city,” Koral said. “[A software program] keeps citizens in the loop and let’s them you know you are working on it.”
Sequim City Council members seemed to approve of the plan.
Council member Ted Miller said he was in favor of adopting a rental registration program and using civil enforcement rather than using criminal enforcement.
“The object of the game is to get them into compliance and not into jail,” he said. “We want people to feel like we’re working with them,” Koral said. “A vast majority of folks want to do the right thing.”
For more information on the Code Enforcement plan, visit www.sequim wa.gov, or call 360-683-7227.
Matthew Nash is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. Reach him at [email protected].