'Hitting the reset button' in Helper
While he was out surveying flood damage in his town Aug. 1, Helper Mayor Dean Armstrong did a little multitasking. Street by street, he jotted down the addresses where weeds had become an eyesore.
He pulled out that pocket-size memo pad at last Thursday's city council meeting and counted off the pages, "One, two, three..." and found seven pages worth of problem properties.
Some of the buildings are occupied, some are vacant, and all could be facing citations.
This is not something that will require new ordinances, the mayor said. There is already a law on the books for this, Chapter 12 of the Municipal Code to be exact. What's more, Armstrong said, absentee owners or foreclosed properties can't escape the fines any more because they are out of town. The city can put a lien on the property and encumber the title until the fines are paid.
"We're hitting the reset button" on municipal government and government services, the mayor declared. Weeds are just one item on the "to do" list.
The city has recently proposed an 86 percent hike in property tax rates. There is also a proposal for an increase in water rates, which would include monthly minimum fees for "dormant" connections - vacant homes or shops that still must have water service available.
There are places in town where tree roots have distended sidewalks, curbs and gutters. The city is liable for accidents that might occur as a result of uneven walkways.
If life in Helper does get more expensive as a result of all this, then "our citizens are justified in having high expectations of what they'll get," Armstrong stated. So if the city wants citizens to get out and chop weeds, city employees will have to do the same for municipal property.
Meanwhile, there is belt-tightening and bargaining for deals. While the city could use a tiny Bobcat loader to negotiate some of the tight spaces like tunnels it must maintain, there is not $4,000 in the budget to buy a used one. The council decided that it did have $2,500 and approved offering that much. If the offer isn't accepted, Helper will do without it.
Another case in point is the recent crash of the city's computer server. It was so old - five years - there will be a problem retrieving the data from its hard drive. That computer will have to be replaced, but the council will be exploring low-cost, long-term options for website hosting and secure data backup.