BELLEVILLE — A task force reviewing the city's proposed crime-free housing plan asked Wednesday for a sunset clause -- and other provisions to protect residents and landlords -- to be included in the ordinance.
The task force spent about six months reviewing the program designed to address crime in rental properties. The group turned over their recommendations to city officials in January and met Wednesday to review feedback from city staff.
Task force member John Masur, a Belleville landlord, told members that he could not support the ordinance without setting an expiration date for the program.
City Attorney Mike Flynn deleted the December 2017 expiration date because the City Council could always amend or do away with the ordinance, said Ward 1 Alderman Ken Kinsella, chairman of the task force.
Masur said he believes the task force has put together a fair ordinance, but he would not want the city to continue a program that does not show improvements after five years.
The sunset clause would ensure that city leaders review the crime-free housing program at the end of 2017 to see if the ordinance has indeed reduced crime, Masur said.
The proposed ordinance calls for a committee to meet twice a year to track the program's progress.
At those intervals, the committee could ask the police chief to provide data that shows how many crimes occurred at rental properties that year, and there should be decrease, Masur said.
The task force also wants the city to provide the committee reviewing the program with financial information, including how much money the city collects from property registration and how the city uses the money.
"I don't want this to be a fundraiser for the city," Masur said.
If the ordinance is approved, owners would be required to register each rental unit. The cost is $25 per unit per year.
The task force has asked for the money to go in a separate fund so the money could easily be tracked and reviewed, Kinsella said. Members asked for the city attorney to add language that would explain where the money would be assigned.
Mayor Mark Eckert reassured the task force that the city also does not intend for the program to be a "money maker." But he also does not want the program to be a financial drain.
Eckert and task force members agree that the $25 fee collected per unit per year should be enough to operate the program.
The city has an estimated 8,000 rental units so the program could generate $200,000 annually.
If revenues are as projected, the city plans to hire at least one officer immediately to help operate the crime-free housing program, Eckert said. The city would evaluate the program's revenue and expenses before hiring a second officer.
Task force member and landlord Kevin Bouse asked about the administrative appeals portion of the ordinance, which gives owners, landlords and managing agents 10 days to appeal if their registration is denied.
Eckert said the city could decide to start city court or have a hearing officer handle administrative appeals. Eckert wanted Bouse to get an idea from other cities with similar programs, such as Granite City, how often appeals arise.
Some residents told the task force they were concerned over the personal information the city would collect as part of the program.
One of the requirements of the program, for example, is mandatory background checks going back seven years for every tenant 18 years and older.
Belleville resident and landlord Rhonda Campos asked the task force about the possiblity of landlords discriminating against residents with a criminal history.
Task force members said a landlord could still rent to someone with a criminal history; they just want the landlord to be aware of the history.
The task force clarified that the landlord would just have to sign off that a background check was done before a resident could get an occupancy permit from the city. The landlord does not have to turn over a copy of the criminal history or sex offender check to the city.
Next, the task force will have the city attorney make revisions. A draft of the revised proposal will be available on the city's website, www.belleville.net.
The task force will then meet at 6:30 p.m. March 14 to review the ordinance another time before presenting the plan to the City Council.
Then the City Council and residents will get to ask the task force questions about the ordinance at a public hearing set for 7 p.m. March 21.
Other members of the task force are: Ward 4 Alderman Dean Hardt; Linda Havlin, of the nonprofit West End Redevelopment Corp.; Dan Nollman, a resident from the east end; and Tricia Tialdo, a real estate agent who also serves on the city's health and housing committee.
Task force member Stan Bratzke resigned in January.
Contact reporter Jacqueline Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2655. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/BNDBelleville.