City codes outsourcing remains an option

City officials’ option to outsource city code enforcement remains on the table.

Mayor Gabriel J. Campana has explored the idea with a Hazleton firm, according to an Oct. 3, 2018 letter to a third-party business.

Code Services of Barry Isett & Associates of Hazleton offered a proposal for $20,000 to conduct three months of in-house observations of the department.

“It would be up to the next administration,” Campana said.

Department expenditures nearly doubled from 2011 to 2017, said William E. Nichols Jr., city finance director in a financial plan for 2019 through 2021.

During that time, codes enforcers were prepared to handle many more duties, including inspection of rental properties that were reported as having illegal drug and gun activities. The city, during the period, passed an ordinance that was challenged in U.S. Middle District Court by an out-of-state landlord with properties in the city.

Joseph Gerardi, city codes administrator, refuted the expense had doubled and said the department is revenue-neutral for the most part.

During the time when the enforcement of the rental properties that were visited by police was occurring, codes officers were under stress, according to Gerardi, for doing required enforcement and compliance checks and working with police and the ordinance.

Nonetheless, each year the city codes enforcement office spends in the range of $500,000 to $1 million annually, Nichols said. The budget is usually somewhere around $880,000, he said.

“Options for outsourcing are part of the three-year financial plan presented to council and remain an option for the next administration and council,” Nichols said.

Isett officials said they would look at the city department’s daily administration, permit issuance procedures, inspection scheduling procedures, inspection documentation, coordination with other department, complaint investigation and close-out procedures as well as ride-alongs with the staff.

Additionally, officials with the firm said they would look at a review of the legally-adopted ordinances and fee schedule and provide a monthly written status report and final report at the end of the period.

The final report was expected to summarize observations, comment on existing staffing levels, staff certifications, staff training policies, use of information technology to improve services, and check overall efficiency, according to the document.

Moreover, Isett staff would speak to the mayor on a weekly or an as-needed basis.

“I will be glad to speak to council should it want to hear from me,” Gerardi said, adding there are pros and cons to every proposal and he would be willing to speak to council and committees about his views on outsourcing and contracts with third-parties.

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