Instead of replacing the Belleville housing department director who resigned after a short stay in office, the city will give $5,000 to $10,000 raises to four current employees and give them more responsibilities in a newly created department.
The new department will be called Residential and Commercial Development Services and it will have three divisions: Housing and Code Enforcement; Building and Zoning, and Economic Development and Planning. The Health, Housing and Building Department name will be eliminated as of Feb. 3 when the pay raises take effect.
The pay raises total $35,000 but compared to the cost of the salary, benefits and taxes for a new housing department director, the city expects to save an estimated $67,500 with the changes approved by the City Council.
Here are the city officials getting raises to handle the new department as part of one-year pilot program:
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▪ Annissa McCaskill will be the interim director of the Residential and Commercial Development Services Department in addition to her current position as director of Economic Development, Planning & Zoning. She will get a one-year stipend of $10,000 to raise her salary from $79,624 to $89,624.
▪ Police Chief Bill Clay and Assistant Police Chief Matt Eiskant each will assume additional housing and code enforcement duties and receive a $10,000 stipend for one year. This will raise Clay’s salary to $124,479 and Eiskant’s to $118,834.
▪ Jeff Heidorn will remain as the building commissioner and oversee the building inspectors. He also will take on the job as assistant director of the Residential and Commercial Development Services Department. He will get a one-year stipend of $5,000 and his salary under the new program will be $74,547.
Mayor Mark Eckert said the new department will pull together employees from the Economic Development, Planning and Zoning Department, the Health, Housing and Building Department and the Belleville Police Department.
“It links them all in a much tighter connection,” Eckert said. “It’s going to unify and simply.”
The stated goals of the program include:
▪ “Improve customer service” for residents and for new and current business owners.
▪ “Maintain and develop safe clean neighborhoods.”
▪ “Create a positive, welcoming” experience for new businesses.
The idea for the new department came about when city leaders discussed how to replace Jonathan Philebaum, who resigned on Nov. 21 just weeks after being named director of the Health, Housing and Building Department. Philebaum replaced Bob Sabo, the longtime director of the department who retired late last year.
Philebaum said in his resignation letter that he resigned “after long deliberation about the separation from my family who lives out of state.” Eckert said Philebaum moved back to Florida.
The Residential and Commercial Development Services will be based at 407 E. Lincoln St., where the Health, Housing and Building Department is located. Eventually, this new department is expected to move back to City Hall when the city has money to finish remodeling the second floor of City Hall, Eckert said.
The City Council voted 14-1 to adopt the new department for a one-year trial.
The lone dissenting vote was cast by Ward 8 Alderman Roger Barfield, who previously served 31 years in the police department where he retired as assistant chief and then worked as a manager in the housing department manager for eight years.
Barfield voted against the plan because he thinks McCaskill should concentrate on being economic development director.
“We’re putting a lot on her plate,” Barfield said. “Her main job should be out bringing businesses into the city.”
Eckert said that in a “perfect world” the city would hire two more employees to work on economic development but there isn’t money in the budget for that.
But Eckert said he thinks the business recruitment process will improve with the new setup overseen by McCaskill, who will “usher” new businesses through the permitting process from beginning to end in one department.
“Customer service is a must and we’re going to work on making it a pleasant experience for everybody who wants to do business in Belleville,” Eckert said. “That in itself is going to sell more people to take a look at us.”
When residents have complaints about a home with junk in the yard or other nuisance complaints, the Residential and Commercial Development Services will handle the issues with police officers assigned to the department.
“They are going to take on all the nuisance complaints,” Eckert said.
Police officers previously have been assigned to the housing department but the department’s role will expand.
Along with the nuisance complaints, Clay and Eiskant will oversee code enforcement, court cases involving complaints, animal control and crime-free housing and occupancy permit issues. Also, complaints about high grass and weeds may be handled by seasonal or community service officers.
The police department recently started using a new computer program for record keeping and this system will be expanded to including housing complaints that are now maintained on paper records.
“Now we’re going to be able to punch in an address and get the reports listed from everything from the fire department being sent there to the guys from housing being sent there with their inspections to the police department on their evening calls being sent there,” Eckert said.
“We’re going to be able to communicate with each other so much better.”