A group of citizens will come forward at Monday’s City Council work session to present an alternative to Ottumwa’s ban on pitbull terriers.
Mayor Frank Flanders requested the issue be put on the agenda after hearing the concerns of a group of citizens.
“I had a group of people come in and they are offering a very different proposal than what we were faced with when I was on the council,” said Flanders, who served as a council member when the ban was put in place. “It was right after a tragedy had occurred, and we were faced with the dichotomy of either the ban or the situation the way it was before. With that dichotomy, in the wake of a tragedy, we did what we felt was the safest thing for the citizens of Ottumwa.”
The group, which Flanders said is not representing a specific organization, is offering a third alternative.
“While I don’t expect the council to vote against what they believe is right, I just feel that they should give these people a fair hearing just to see what they have to say,” Flanders said. “It goes along with the transparency issue a couple of council members have talked about in the past.”
City Administrator Joe Helfenberger said the issue was already discussed two years ago.
“We had a lawsuit on the issue, which the city won because it proved that this specific breed was causing injury to enough residents over a short period of time,” he said.
Prior to 1989, there was no ordinance against pitbulls, but the breed was partially restricted that year. It was allowed to be considered a guard dog but had to be muzzled and on a leash if outside.
But between July 2000 and December 2002, there were 18 pitbull attacks and one death in Ottumwa, said Police Chief Jim Clark at a 2010 council work session, and so the guard dog exception was removed, banning all pitbulls.
Animal control officer Jeff Williams said he doesn’t see the ban changing at all and he hopes it doesn’t.
“There’s good reason, a purpose behind it,” Williams said. “I see both sides of this issue, but there’s more good things to the ban than there are bad.”
Williams said even though people know the ban is in place, he still issues numerous citations and arrests for people having pitbulls.
“It’s an ongoing battle,” he said. “People still think they can try to have them or sneak them in.”
Commercial property maintenance code
The council will also discuss the implementation of a Commercial Property Maintenance Code, as well as replacing three other building codes.
Jody Gates, director of health, inspections and solid waste, said the proposed Commercial Property Maintenance Code would be a new addition to City Code, and would address issues with the appearance of commercial buildings.
“The concept is that we have a housing code that addresses residential properties and the maintenance of those, but we didn’t have anything for commercial buildings,” she said. “There’s been a lot of concern with the way some commercial buildings look, windows falling out of the buildings, they’re sometimes boarded up, sometimes are not. The facades of some buildings are looking pretty rough. There are vestibules of buildings not being intact or even kept clean.”
Over the years, Gates said her department has heard from elected officials, citizens and business owners that they would like Ottumwa’s commercial buildings to be better maintained.
“We needed a way to be able to provide enforcement for that,” she said.
Cities across the nation have adopted commercial property maintenance codes, and Gates said they used Dubuque as a reference.
“We’ll be able to notify building owners that have boarded up windows on the front of buildings that are adjacent to streets that they may need to do something different, rather than putting a piece of plywood up,” she said.
The code specifies that buildings not in compliance at the time of its adoption would have six months to do repairs and become compliant. If a building is not compliant, “there would be civil citation penalties like there are now with other violations of the code. It could be $250 to $750, plus court costs,” she said.
The code doesn’t have quite as many tools available for commercial buildings as it does for residential properties, Gates said, but it will give the city more tools than it has right now.
“I’m hoping we could have it adopted before the end of the year, so we can begin implementing it in 2013,” she said.
Fiber optics to Ottumwa
The council will vote to approve a $5,000 contribution to the Ottumwa Economic Development Corporation to be used toward a $40,683 fiber optic study.
The OEDC is hoping to secure a fiber optic network that would cover the city.
Helfenberger said fiber optic infrastructures are already in place in Fairfield, Oskaloosa and other cities Ottumwa competes against for jobs and businesses.
“Many current businesses have asked about the availability of a fiber optic network in Ottumwa to help their businesses,” he said.
The study will include preliminary interviews and information gathering, three-and-a-half day stakeholder workshops, three town hall meetings, technology inventory assessment, constituent surveys, broadband map development, analysis of survey data, and a final needs assessment report with broadband strategy recommendations.
In a nutshell, Helfenberger said the study will inventory Ottumwa’s existing situation and determine a plan for the community to build a fiber optic network. The money would be taken out of the general fund under the Planning Department.
“We’re beginning the steps toward evaluating what we have and what makes sense on where we need to head,” Helfenberger said.
The council will meet at 5 p.m. Monday in council chambers at City Hall. The meeting will air live on GO-TV, cable channel 6.