Belleville OKs raises for for crime free housing program

News-DemocratNovember 4, 2013 

— City leaders on Monday approved raises for two employees to handle extra duties created by the new crime free housing program instead of hiring a new worker for the tasks.

The council also voted to approve the mayor's appointments to a 10-member Crime Free Housing Committee, which will meet at least twice a year to address residents' concerns and evaluate the program, and a hearing officer, who will handle ordinance violation appeals related to the crime-free housing ordinance.

Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert said the city will save at least $21,840 approving the wage increases for the two employees instead of hiring an additional worker.

Some aldermen questioned whether current employees have time to take on new tasks. Others asked whether raises were necessary when the amount of work to run the program will taper off after the initial launch.

The crime-free housing program went into effect Friday. The program, which aims to reduce crime in rental housing, forces landlords to evict renters who violate the law, register rental units for $25 each year and run criminal background checks on new tenants over 18, among other requirements.

Bob Sabo, the city's director of Health, Housing, Building and Zoning, said it has been an "enormous task" for his employees to start the program, which required notifying at least 1,486 landlords of the new requirements.

"That was a one-time deal ... but the raise is forever," Ward 2 Alderwoman Melinda Hult said.

But Sabo said the Housing Department secretary is needed to do data entry, fee collection, registration and other work to maintain the program after the initial setup.

The Housing Department receptionist will assist the secretary so there is a second person trained in those duties in case the secretary is off work, Sabo said.

The council voted to raise the secretary's hourly wage by $1, from $13.50 to $14.50, and the receptionist's hourly wage by $2, from $11.50 to $13.50.

Alderwoman-At-Large Lillian Schneider voted no. Hult and Ward 7 Alderman Trent Galetti abstained.

Sabo said he came up with the proposal after speaking to the employees and their union representative, as required by the union contract.

It would have cost the city $28,080 and benefits to hire a new secretary whereas the total wage increases amount to $6,240, which will save the city at least $21,840.

Eckert said his appointees to the Crime-Free Housing Committee vary in their age, race and gender, and where they live in the city.

The committee includes aldermen Ken Kinsella from Ward 1 and Bob White from Ward 6, property manager Patty Herr, tenants Patrick Eschman and Vanessa Smith, real estate agent Trish Tialdo, owner-occupied homeowners Walter Hood and Beverly Fiss, and landlords Kevin Bouse and John Durako.

Schneider voted against Eckert's appointments. Galetti and Ward 3 Alderman Kent Randle abstained.

According to the crime-free housing ordinance, the committee will be given annual information on current crime statistics in Belleville and the program's revenue and expenditures. It's unclear when the committee will meet or who can call meetings.

Eckert also proposed Thom Peters as the hearing officer for the crime-free housing program and the council approved this appointment 12-4.

Hult, Galetti, Schneider and Ward 5 Alderman Joe Hayden voted no.

Hayden said the city should establish a housing court instead of having a hearing officer who will essentially act as a judge on all claims.

Hult asked whether Peters, a Belleville attorney, will have time for the role, referring to Peters' resignation in 2006 as city alderman because his job kept him out of town for weeks at a time. Peters also cited the same reason when the opportunity to be attorney for the city of Belleville was available.

Eckert said Peters will act as the hearing officer as needed and Peters has agreed to do the work without pay. The city might need to hire a full-time hearing officer in the future depending on the number of appeals to the ordinance, Eckert said.

Contact reporter Jacqueline Lee at jlee@bnd.com or 239-2655. Follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/BNDBelleville.

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