Mayor and his team lash council leaders’ crime-fighting plan

“It seems to me that it appears that Council President Bill Hall and Council Vice President Jonathan Williamson may sympathize with slumlords.”

That’s what Mayor Gabriel J. Campana said Monday in response to an alternative plan proposed by Hall and Williamson, one that would replace the proposed rental ordinance requiring landlords to register their properties and tenants with City Codes Department.

“I feel that way because it’s clear to me that our ordinance would put slumlords out of business,” Campana said. “To me, it’s a very easy solution,” he said. “Let’s stop playing around and let’s approve this when the time comes.”

Hall and Williamson are calling for doubling the size of codes and increasing staff salaries and those of new hires to remain competitive.

“I negotiate contracts,” Campana said. “They don’t understand that in a third-class city, council doesn’t negotiate contracts.”

Hall said he’s in negotiations to find funding sources that would prevent the projects resulting in a tax increase.

“With our plan you wouldn’t need the landlord registration ordinance,” Hall said.

“If they increase codes it means other employees in community development and the office staff in the police department would also have to get raises,” Campana said. “That’s 15 employees and it means increased legacy costs.”

A legal review of the proposed rental ordinance has been done by city assistant solicitor J. David Smith.

“It’s not overly broad and would allow us to withstand court challenge,” Smith said.

Neighborhoods continue to be adversely affected by bad rentals, according to police Capt. Michael Orwig. He said the problem is police have no recourse when it comes to rental properties enforcement.

Orwig cited one unidentified property where police responded 250 times in two years.

“Laws evolve and change based on demographics and the problem at hand,” Orwig said, claiming the problem of rental properties is worsening, not improving.

He supports passage of the mayor’s ordinance.

“If council fails to act on this proposal the city will be the last standing without any enforcement to curb this issue,” Orwig said.

“Let the legislators legislate,” said Ron James, president of the Williamsport/Lycoming Crime Commission on Memorial Avenue. He called the alternative plan “absurd” and a “mistake.”

Neighborhood watch group organizers Jeff Reeder and Sally Wiegand said the increased interest shows residents are fed up with the rental properties where drugs like heroin are sold.

The city has 16 active watch groups; recently 50 people attended one at Rose View Manor and 35 at the Vallamont II group, Wiegand said.

“We don’t want walkie-talkies and T-shirts or printers,” Wiegand said, a reference the Hall/Williamson plan to get materials for watch groups. “We don’t want to be recognized on the street.”

City police Capt. Timothy Miller, who said he has worked on the proposed ordinance for more than a year, was upset when he read about the alternative plan in Sunday’s Sun-Gazette.

“My heart began to break for the city.”

“Where’s the fairness to city citizens when two councilmen have already cast their vote?” Miller asked. “I hope our citizens remember your safety and quality of life is being sold to the highest bidder.”