A key vote to establish a new citywide rental licensing and inspection program will be delayed by at least a month.
City Commissioner Jeremy Farmer said he's not comfortable proceeding with the vote planned for next week until he gets more data on the performance of the limited inspection program the city currently runs.
"We've been riding our hearts on this issue," Farmer said. "I still think the program is a good idea and we need to do it. We need to protect vulnerable people, and that is a big reason I ran. But we also have to do our due diligence on this."
Commissioners were scheduled to vote on establishing the program at their meeting on Tuesday. But Mayor Mike Dever has now indicated that the item won't be on Tuesday's agenda. A date for the item to come before the commission hasn't been determined, although Farmer estimated it would be in early to mid-March.
Farmer is asking staff members to gather large amounts of new data on the city's existing rental licensing and inspection program, which covers only rental units that are in single-family zoned neighborhoods. Farmer said some of the data he has seen has created more questions than answers.
In particular, he notes a city memo that reports, for the first 11 months of 2013, the city had issued 890 violations as part of the rental inspection program, but the city has only been able to determine that about 35 percent of the violations have been corrected. Scott McCullough, the city's director of planning and development services, said the city hasn't had the staffing to conduct enough re-inspections to determine the status of the other violations.
Farmer said he's concerned about what will happen if the program grows in size.
"The very irresponsible thing to do would be to just say, let's make our current program multiple times larger, add a couple more people to the staff, and hope that things get better," Farmer said.
As proposed, the new rental licensing and inspection program would be expanded to all rental units in the city, although only a portion of the 18,000 rental units in the city would be inspected in any given year. The city plans to add four new positions to staff the program, which is expected to cost about $400,000 a year.
Farmer said he wants staff members to provide a more detailed set of statistics about how the current program, which inspects about 400 properties a year, is performing. He said he then wants to host a community meeting in late February to discuss the information. Farmer said the data may lead him to suggest changes to the proposed program — which would inspect about 2,600 properties per year — to ensure the city has enough time and resources to run the program efficiently.
Other commissioners haven't opposed Farmer's request for a delay, but that's in part because Farmer is widely viewed as the swing vote on the issue. Both Commissioners Bob Schumm and Terry Riordan have expressed support for the program as currently proposed. Dever and Commissioner Mike Amyx have expressed concern.
Riordan said he will be concerned if the delay stretches for more than a month on the issue, because he doesn't want to "lose steam" on the issue.
Farmer said he also wants to keep the issue on the front burner, but does think the extra time may help opposing sides on the issue come together.
"If we have to make a difficult decision, I will do that," Farmer said. "I'm still supportive of the program. But I also still want to work on a compromise."