Brush left curbside for weeks. Trashcans languishing in the road for days. Waist-high grass and inoperable clunkers parked on neighborhood streets. Township committee members have seen it all around Cinnaminson and they’re ready to take a hard line against such code violations.
Soon it may be possible for neighbors to more easily report violations as well, helping identify and squash minor issues before they became major neighborhood headaches. Questions remain though: Who should oversee code enforcement? Will a reporting system (and, presumably, annoyed neighbors) overwhelm township employees? How much will a reporting system cost?
While code enforcement isn’t the most exciting undertaking, Cinnaminson officials say it will help protect the town’s property values.
“I think it’s really important,” Committeewoman Kathy Fitzpatrick. “I don’t want to be heavy-handed in our approach, but I certainly feel like it’s important that our code enforcement officer address the problems … so that we can maintain our image as a good family community.
“It all ties together. If someone maintains their property, it might encourage their neighbors to maintain their property.”
It’s time for Cinnaminson to crack down, agreed Committeeman Ben Young, who works closely with public works and has led efforts to get residents in compliance with brush rules. Committee members said brush and leaf violations are perhaps the most common complaint they receive.
“(Residents) have had 18 months of education. We’re going to start writing tickets,” Young said. “We’ve been nice, we’ve been cooperative … and if there are situations when a discussion will fix a problem, we should do that. But there are times when a discussion doesn’t work.”
Needed: manager and ground troops
Property maintenance issues have swelled as the economy has dropped, leading to more vacant homes and more code violations, Deputy Mayor Anthony Minniti noted.
Code violations are already ticking up and will continue to with more focus on enforcement. Any reporting system that allows online complaints could create a glut of investigations for the township to undertake. So, committee needs to figure out how to best handle code enforcements.
Committee discussed that at its Nov. 12 meeting as part of a set of recommendations on streamlining township functions. Township administrator Frank Locantore recommended committee designate a single person in charge of overseeing all code violations, from investigating initial reports to testifying at court cases to the conclusion.
Currently, zoning officer John Marshall also handles code enforcement, a change made when his position converted to full-time. Committee needs to decide whether Marshall should manage code enforcement oversight or whether to hire a dedicated part-time enforcement officer and revert the zoning officer to part-time as well.
Either way, Locantore said, “I would recommend that all code enforcement activities flow through one person. … You have one person following through with noticing, following through with court, making sure that the case has been heard and the problems addressed.” It avoids a mixed message, he added.
Cinnaminson also needs to train its entire workforce, especially employees out and about in town during the day, to recognize and report violations, Minniti said.
“By making that part of the culture of what they do, it’s a huge step forward,” he said.
Finding a reporting mechanism
No matter who is in charge or reporting problems, Cinnaminson doesn’t have the capacity to follow through on increased code enforcement right now, Committeeman John Rooney said. The town’s pen-and-paper approach to logging violations isn’t efficient or detailed enough, he added.
“We don’t have the infrastructure,” Rooney said. “A software solution enables the hybrid solution to work. The hybrid solution is that we want all employees to look for (violations) but we want to give them a vehicle to easily report it, so it’s a manageable work flow.”
Reporting software runs from free (but not recommended, Rooney said) programs installed on the town’s website to a $10,000 per year system. Committee directed Locantore to investigate options for consider at a future meeting.