WORTHINGTON — The city of Worthington will head back to the drawing board on its rental housing inspection, city council members decided Monday night.
Following staff recommendation, the council voted unanimously to suspend enforcement of the city’s current rental housing registration and inspection program due to, as Worthington City Administrator Steve Robinson explained Monday, “its ineffectiveness and the current public health crisis.” The action called on city staff to begin work on a new rental housing program that would “protect the health, safety and welfare of the city’s residents.”
The council’s action will result in the layoff of an employee in the city’s code enforcement officer/housing inspector position.
In a memorandum to council members, Robinson described the difficulties associated with the program.
“Since its inception in 2006, the program has struggled to achieve its stated purpose,” he explained. “The current program has proven inadequate in providing sufficient enforcement mechanisms to gain entry to rental units. … As a result, gaining entry into a unit often takes months and requires significant legal costs.
“The ordinance also has failed to provide sufficient penalties for property owners who routinely fail to pass inspections and refuse to bring their properties into compliance with its minimum standards,” he continued. “As a result, many units that failed inspections are never brought into compliance with the ordinance’s minimum requirements. The current program also does not require sufficient documentation to protect the city from claims of liability or establish a sufficient record required by a higher court in dispute cases.”
Councilman Chad Cummings expressed an eagerness to enact a program that would, in essence, do what the old program couldn’t.
“We have to be able to have some teeth to this to make sure we can get in (rentals) and make sure the standards of this community have been met,” Cummings said.
“It’s time we take a hard look at this,” Mayor Mike Kuhle urged.
Councilman Chris Kielblock asked about how complaints regarding rental housing will be addressed in the absence of the program. Robinson responded that complaint-based inspections will continue to be pursued.
It will likely take six to 12 months to develop a prospective replacement for the previous rental housing and inspection program, Robinson shared.
“The (old) ordinance doesn’t give us the enforcement status we need,” he said. “It needs to be reimagined and reimplemented.”
In a separate matter Monday, council members approved the final plat for the Cecilee Addition, which will consist of 21 lots — 18 of which will be for single-family residential housing, one for multi-family, one for the movie theater site and the last for a filtration pond,
The preliminary plat for the addition was approved by the council during its Feb. 8 meeting. Since there were no changes from the preliminary plat, it wasn’t subject to Worthington Planning Commission review.
Worthington Assistant City Administrator/Director of Economic Development Jason Brisson noted that a desired sidewalk easement for the addition couldn’t be placed in the final plat due to state statutes, but will be added in a separate easement program. He added that he expected lots for new homes will start being sold in April.
Robinson, meanwhile, said an extended Cecilee Street should be completed by mid-summer.
In other business, the council:
Heard a presentation from Claire Henning, a Nobles County health educator, on multiple components of Worthington’s Active Living Committee, whose many goals include increasing biking and walking throughout the community and promoting safety initiatives that contribute to outdoor activities within city limits. The committee was created in May 2015.
Approved a staff recommendation to pay $153,541.45 for necessary building and equipment improvements at the Worthington Ice Arena, with a second payment of $71,944 for pavement items to be made upon agreement from the Nobles County Fair Association. The council had allocated up to $500,000 of local option sales tax funds last year for needed work at the arena. The work covered in the payment approved Monday is already completed.
Accepted an agreement allowing the Worthington Area Youth Baseball Association (WAYBA) to lease the Worthington Middle School baseball fields from District 518 for the 2021 season, with the city assuming maintenance responsibilities.
Approved a budget amendment request from city public works staff to purchase a new Volvo L60H wheel loader to take the place of a 2008 Volvo L60F loader that was scheduled to be replaced in 2022. A quote of $102,163 was received, which is slightly less than what is currently indicated in the city’s equipment replacement schedule.
Approved the creation of a Director of Engineering and Public Works position that, among other duties, would be responsible for planning and directing all engineering activities to provide timely and effective support for city, public works and public utilities operations and improvements. The individual in the post would also provide overall supervision and coordination of city engineering staff.