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Orangeburg hires firm to help with building code, ordinance enforcement

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Orangeburg is hiring a company to assist it in the enforcement of the city's building codes and ordinances.

The city has contracted with Colorado-based SafeBuilt LLC to help "buttress" its ability to enforce the city's buildings codes and to carry forward the process of building code enforcement, City Administrator Sidney Evering said.

“We have a lot of dilapidated buildings, weedy lots" Evering told council during its regularly scheduled Tuesday meeting. “We need to be always cognizant of that and making sure the city is as beautiful and presentable as it can be.”

The first task assigned to the company will be to work with property owners whose buildings have been condemned by the city's building official to bring the property up to code, said Dean Felkel, city director of public works.

If the owner is not willing to do so, citations may be issued and the building may ultimately be demolished at the owner’s expense, Felkel said.

The city's contract with SafeBuilt is for one-year and is based on an as-needed basis. The contract will automatically renew each year and either party can cancel with a 30-day notice, Felkel said.

"They charge by the hour for their services," Felkel said, noting as a result he is unable to determine an exact cost of their services to the city. "It is the city’s first time utilizing this firm for this type of services."

The company will specifically serve as a supplement to the city's current code enforcement staff. This will include addressing abandoned buildings and those that have been condemned by the city’s building official.

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Felkel said the company will not provide any new services but "will be assisting in performing the same services as the city, but additional manpower to help with the city’s current workload."

The city currently has one building official, one full-time code-enforcement officer/building inspector, and one part-time code-enforcement officer that works one day a week, Felkel said.

"Staff will continue to perform their normal day-to-day duties in the enforcement of code violations and building inspections for the city," Felkel said.

Felkel said the city is also addressing code compliance by working harder to educate the public on city codes and ordinances; using door hangers to inform owners of code violations; implementing daily routes for staff to cover the entire city per week to address violations; increasing warning tickets and citations for non-compliant cases; and having a code-enforcement officer on patrol during weekends to assist in identifying offenders and violators.

"We are going to take a more aggressive approach in our code enforcement in order for us to get the city where we want it to be: to attract the business and the tourism, and the industry that we want to see," Evering said. "We have to take pride in our city and our community. That is what this effort is all about."

"If you have dilapidated property around he city, if you have weedy lots, if you have unkempt properties that are violating code ordinances than we are going to be taking a more aggressive approach to make sure we will bring you into compliance," Evering continued.

The specific properties the city will be targeting for code enforcement were not immediately identified due to the fact that property owners have yet to be notified.

Councilman Bernard Haire expressed concerns that there are a number of individuals who cannot afford to fix the houses. Haire asked if funds were available through grants to assist homeowners.

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"I am very cognizant that there might be folks who might not have the financial wherewithal to always comply," Evering said. "But there are also a number of individuals who have properties that are dilapidated and they don't even live in Orangeburg. Those are the ones that we want to give special attention to. They are just allowing their properties to go unkept and they are not even here to notice it."

Councilman Dr. Kalu Kalu asked Evering to specify what he means by aggressive. Evering said it is about being more proactive in enforcing the city's ordinances already in place.

"We start the process or we don't follow through or complete the process because we do not have enough people power," Evering said, describing the city's current situation with code enforcement. "We are really buttressing our ability to do the process."

Kalu asked about the expense for the city to contract out the company.

"How do we recoup what we are spending out?" Kalu said.

Everning said the code enforcement will make for a more attractive city for investors and businesses, which will increase the tax base.

Kalu asked would the city take over the buildings that are not being kept up to code.

Everning said the city would condemn them or demolish them if abandoned. He said the city would go through the proper legal processes before conducting any condemnations or demolitions.

Orangeburg Mayor Michael Butler said, "We are enforcing what we put in place."

"We put these rules and ordinances in place as it relates to the dilapidated properties," Butler said. "I think the owner should be held accountable for their properties."

"There are some people who are not able (to upgrade property). We are not going to be insensitive to that," Butler continued. "There are people, especially in the downtown area, they have those buildings but they live in New York, the live in Florida. They are well able to come back and bring those buildings up to code or sell them."

"We can't afford to continue to allow our city to sit like this and we not do anything," Butler said, noting the city's code-enforcement department is currently short-staffed with two code enforcement officers for the entire city.

Evering encouraged council to "hold firm" when and if they receive phone calls about the matter.

"We want to be fair and equitable to everybody but by the same token we have to hold folks accountable for their properties like everybody else," Evering said.

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Councilman Jerry Hannah said many times the situation is a "monkey see, monkey do" issue where improvement of property can become a ripple effect for improving entire areas.

Evering said one reason for the code ordinance will be to solve a situation like the current one on Russell Street where there is a brand new library and then a couple blocks away abandoned and dilapidated buildings.

"These are the types of things we want to improve on," he said.

Evering noted SafeBuilt has over 25 years of experience specializing in performance of inspection services and the enforcement of local codes and ordinances for the private and public sectors.

Felkel said the company is being used by other municipalities in the state.

Company officials say they are helping in areas such as Cheraw, St. George, Elloree, Walterboro, Saluda, Summerton and Woodruff to name a few.

SafeBuilt is no stranger to Orangeburg. They have been used in the past to assist the city’s building official in performing plan reviews for large projects within the city, Felkel said.

According to its website, SafeBuilt has 18 locations throughout the country, including an office in Anderson.

The company provides building department services, plan review, code enforcement, inspection services and permitting services, according to its website.

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