A complete overhaul of New Castle’s code enforcement department is underway as code officers have begun learning data and complaint tracking to yield more effective results.
“Excessive reactionary code enforcement is a thing of the past,” said Mayor Chris Frye.
The department came under fire from both the city council and the Act 47 team when the quarter two numbers were released in August. Due to the lack of “meaningful progress,” the Act 47 team wrote in a letter from early September, the city was non-compliant with its three-year exit plan.
One of the four violations — all of which were rooted in code — stemmed from the lack of implementation of software and field equipment into code vehicles. A $46,000 state grant was used to purchase the equipment.
The funds were used during the previous administration to buy tablets and Munilogic, a municipal management software. The software will launch in January, Frye said.
“My administration has prioritized upgrading and implementing efficient technology throughout and code has been making incremental improvements as they also adjust to the internal administrative changes that have been occurring,” Frye said after the non-compliance was issued in September.
“There are always challenges that must be overcome with new technology and code officers are currently testing the tablets in cars with the advent of a mobile hotspot,” he said.
The restructuring changes are based upon a 14-page report on the department from March 2018. In the report, 13 recommendations to the department’s structure, training and technology and resources were made.
“Data-driven code enforcement allows municipalities to coordinate data and information so that they can measure blight and reduce it,” the report reads.
Software advancements, increased remote access, remote printers in vehicles, GIS mapping, vehicle tracking and updated phones and website were the primary technology driven recommendations.
Once a municipality compiles a body of data, the report reads, it can use a database to do such actions as identify common violations in specific areas, enforce registration and permit laws and Establish the best areas to target proactive enforcement efforts.
Efforts also include integrating technology into enforcement decision making as well as training on property maintenance, uniform construction code permitting, residential inspections and demolitions, Frye said.
According to third-quarter department head reports, code wrote 27 citations from July through September. Comparatively, in quarter three of 2019, 304 citations were written. From January through September, code wrote 64 citations. Comparatively, from January through September 2019, code wrote 752 citations.
In September, Frye explained he made the “decision to cease writing new citations, except in extreme cases, because of the economic uncertainty many residents were facing,” but added enforcement was back in full operation.