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Nuisance properties a concern for council members

STEUBENVILLE — Jefferson County public health officials said Tuesday they’ll do what they can to help address problem properties in the city, provided they’re “outside and affecting the public.”

“If someone is choosing to live in filth, we don’t have jurisdiction to go inside the home,” Jefferson County Health Commissioner Andrew Henry explained. “But if it’s affecting (a neighborhood), we can investigate.”

Henry and Environmental Health Director Mark Maragos were at the City Council meeting at the request of City Manager Jim Mavromatis and 3rd Ward Councilman Eric Timmons, who wanted to know what, if anything, they might be able to do to address problems with nuisance properties infested with cockroaches, bedbugs and other vermin.

Timmons told them he’d brought a landlord to council a few weeks ago who was losing tenants because vermin at a neighboring property were making their way to her door.

“I have a property I’ve been dealing with for 15 years,” 4th Ward Councilman Scott Dressel added. “(That individual) lives with and enjoys a wide variety of cockroaches…”

Henry said as long as dirt and cockroaches are contained inside the neighbor’s house there’s nothing anyone can do. But if they’re “outside and making their way to other peoples’ properties, it’s a different situation, it’s affecting other people. Call the health department.”

First Ward Councilwoman Asantewa Anyabwile asked what the county could do to help residents who complain of a neighbor’s house that stinks of garbage so badly they can’t even sit out in their yard, but Maragos said not much.

“We don’t have police authority, if they don’t want to let us on their property or if we go up to their door and they slam it in our face,” he said.

Second Ward Councilman Craig Petrella said dealing with properties disrupting entire neighborhoods is one thing, but he wanted to know how Maragos and his team of inspectors would proceed if they tracked the problem backed to a house and the owner or occupant didn’t want to let them in.

“I would probably get in touch with the city manager,” Maragos said.

“It’s all fluff, no disrespect intended,” Petrella replied. “Our problem is getting in that house and compelling the homeowner to do something, because they are affecting lives. If we can’t get to the source, I think that’s council’s frustration.

“We need to have you guys knock on that door – if they refuse to let you in, go get (the city manager), and see what the problem is, so other property owners around them can have some level of (security) that something is getting done.”

Maragos told council he understands their frustration, adding, “It’s not a Steubenville problem, it’s countywide.”

Petrella, meanwhile, told council he’d “been hammering the city manager about getting the tree on Euclid cut down and getting brush (out). You got it down and, in the process, you also got rid of a car that had West Virginia plates on it. Thank you.”

Mavromatis said the M&R department had three vehicles there, “and the police department took care of the vehicles that needed towed. Neighbors pointed out some vehicles that needed towed and they were very appreciative when the tree was gone.”

Council voted unanimously in favor of the third and final reading of a resolution accepting the amounts and rates as determined by the Budget Commission and authorizing the necessary tax levies and certifying them to the county, and also passed emergency legislation authorizing the purchase of new Motorola radio equipment for the police and fire department.

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