HARRISON – At the July 16 meeting of the Hayes Township Board, an issue was brought up that is unpleasant under any circumstance: cockroach infestation. Pat Adams, vice president of the South Cranberry Lake Homeowners Association, brought up the topic, and described the extensive nature of the problem. He began his address to the township board by saying he was there about the township nuisance ordinances, and the interest survey the township had sent out along with tax notices. His concern was that people may not understand that what many think of as “blight” actually falls under the heading of “nuisance.” He also clarified that the proposed millage of four-tenths of a mill [0.4] would equal $4 per $10,000 of taxable value, rather than $40 as had been erroneously printed in the survey. [The computation cited on the survey should have instructed taxpayers to “multiply the taxable value by .0004: Example: taxable value $10,000 = $10,000 x .0004=$4.00] Adams said those two things likely contributed to a poor reception of the survey.
Maye Tessner-Rood, township treasurer, agreed about the terminology, saying someone had come in saying the neighbor’s children were a nuisance and wanted the township to do something about it.
“We have a nuisance in our community,” Adams said. “And the nuisance is cockroaches; it stems from people at an address where the outside of their house is overwhelmed.”
He also said he had been informed that the people at that address did not take out their trash, which he said he confirmed by checking during a couple of trash days.
Adams went on to say he had spoken with the township and been told there was nothing it could do. He said he spoke with three people at the health department and was told there was nothing they could do because it is not a health issue, and that it had to be dealt with by the township.
He stated the address on Oak Hill Drive and explained that the infestation was so extreme that the roaches had further infested three neighboring residences. Adams said it was also possible two others had been affected as well, but wasn’t certain as the owners had not returned yet this summer.
“Everybody says there’s nothing that can be done about it,” he said. “Now, I don’t live in the house that has the mess; I don’t live in the three adjacent houses that so far have reported cockroaches investing their area.”
Adams then asked if the township indeed had suspended all its nuisance ordinances, and Terry Acton, township supervisor, confirmed that is the case.
“Until we can find a solution of how to fund them,” Acton said.
He explained that the 0.7 mill taken in to run the township provides about $85,000.
“We could spend $85,000 on these issues quickly,” Acton said. “Until we find a way to fund it, this is where we’re at. We’re charged with finding that solution and we’re trying, we’re making steps. We’ve made some errors, and we’re embarrassed [noting the incorrectly stated .4 mills listed on the millage survey], but until we find a funding mechanism, this is where we’re at.”
Adams pointed out that the state’s online tax dashboard lists a total annual revenue for Hayes Township as $1.53 million, with an annual expenditure of $1.34 million. Clerk Deb Hoyt affirmed that and said this year’s budget is $1.3 million. It was quickly clarified that figure includes all the monies handled by Hayes Township, but that most of it is “pass-thru” money going into the hands of other entities, i.e. roads, fire, brining/other special assessments and rubbish. Acton pointed out that rubbish alone is nearly $500,000.
“One-third of that figure you saw in there, goes to pick up the garbage,” Acton said.
It was also explained that the township had spent $56,000 addressing blight over the course of three years – $10,000 of which was legal fees.
“We spent $56,000 and made no progress,” Acton said.
Adams said that even if the township doesn’t break even on blight, it’s worth doing because it’s about people’s health and safety in the community. He then spoke of a conversation he had with Mark Janeczko, the blight officer who handles Franklin, Frost and Hamilton townships, and cited a 20 hours per month cost estimate quoted by the Janeczko.
Acton said he had run some numbers earlier that day, and that Frost, Franklin, Hamilton, Hatton and Greenwood township combined approximate the job facing Hayes Township.
“Twenty hours a month isn’t going to do it,” Acton said. “I’m not sure 20 hours a week is going to do it.”
He said that funding a department is a “best guess” effort, and that to be effective, the figures for Hayes are estimated in the $60,000-$80,000 range. That would seem a high wage for a single officer, but that cost also includes benefits, fringe benefits, government benefits, Medicare, as well as a car with insurance, gas and maintenance. Additionally, there is the necessary reserve cash for attorney fees and filing fees.
“That 0.4 mill would not do the trick 100%,” Acton said. “But it would be a place to start. We don’t want to do something and five years from now find out we overfunded it. We do need enough to get a good healthy start.”
He said that approximately $50,000 to $60,000 could get a township department started.
“Hayes needs a whole department, not just an officer,” Acton said. “And that’s going to cost.”
Adams also pointed out that many people think of blight as junk in the yard, when it is more appropriately applied to falling down structures. Acton pointed out that neither the state nor the federal government recognizes a messy yard as blight. He said the township has guidelines for federal monies available for fighting dangerous buildings, and is looking at that very closely.
“Those dollars are specifically aimed at a structure where the doors are falling off, the roof’s caving in – the structure actually presents a clear and present danger to the public,” Acton said. “That’s what the feds look at as blight. We couldn’t use that money to clean up a messy yard.”
In addressing the time frame for instituting a nuisance department, Acton explained that a millage vote would have to be done during a general election, and that would be next year at the earliest. Then that millage could be collected with the winter taxes in 2021.
“It’s going to take time to put this together,” Acton said.
An audience member asked about the cockroach situation, and whether the township was just going to let it go from house to house to house until it’s the whole neighborhood.
“If we don’t have statutory authority to do anything, then the answer to that is yes,” Acton said. “We can’t just get up and drive out there and do something about it. I don’t and none of the other board members have the statutory authority to take it in our hands, drive out there and stop this – or go on their property and say, ‘You have to change your way of living.’”
Adams said he understood that, but he also understood that for the community’s well-being something needed to be figured out. Acton said that the evening’s meeting was his 71st, and that every one of those meetings had been dominated by the issue of blight.
An audience member then posed the question: Why couldn’t somebody have seen this blight problem coming, and why is there all the “scrambling around here now?”
That lit a fire under Acton, whose voice rose.
“You’ve got it,” he said. “Where was everybody at for the last 60 years? You are exactly right, sir. Where was this community for the last 60 years over this issue? Where were they?”
He said nobody saw it spinning out of control the way it did.
“There’s a real simple solution to all of this,” Acton said. “Just fire us all and hire another board – and you’re going to have that option next November.”
Acton also spoke of his conversations with Ken Hoyt, zoning assistant, and the fact that the dangerous buildings portion of the blight ordinance was still in effect. He said several candidate buildings have been identified, which present a clear and present danger to the public. He said the township has already talked with the county about the possibility of funding that, but the remaining question is how to recover legal costs.
“If we could cover that one aspect, then we would have all the answers in place to proceed forward with a dangerous building,” Acton said. “We could get bids to tear it down – that would be paid for – bids to do the asbestos. We have a means of getting rid of the debris. Waste Management will work with us on that. The last hole in that puzzle is how do we recover the legal costs, because there will be some.”
Later in the meeting, a woman whose home is directly adjacent to the cockroach “source” house, spoke of the extreme difficulty faced by herself and her husband who has medical issues [aneurysm and traumatic brain injury]. She said he is severely anxious and distraught, and is suffering tremendously because of the roaches. She said there had been had a service call from a pest control company, but the roaches are still coming.
“They’re all over the outside of the house,” she said. “I’ve killed all my bushes against their fence – on purpose – to try to make a barrier so they can’t come into my yard anymore. But they’re still coming. Protective Service won’t do anything; no one wants to do anything. And all we want to do is live in peace.”
“We want to do something,” Acton said. “We don’t have the tools in our toolbox to do it.”
He went on to say that it is also frustrating for the township to be unable to help.
“I get people in here every day, along with Maye, Deb and Ken,” Acton said. “We’re on your side. We have a toolbox, and I went through that toolbox. There’s no wrench in there that’s going to let us solve this right now. It’s very frustrating for us – I can’t imagine how frustrating it is for you.”