City Role Moves From ‘Ordinance Control’ to ‘Neighborhood Improvement’
New name, new face brings softer approach with goal of compliance; public input sought
By Brandi Makuski
Ordinance control has taken on a kinder, gentler approach.
Mark Kordus is one of many new hires in city employ, heading up the city’s still-evolving ordinance control office.
The position was created by Mayor Mike Wiza in August of 2015 as a part-time spot, focusing on property maintenance violations within the city limits. Dan Trelka manned that spot until he resigned less than a year later, taking a job with the Stevens Point Police Dept., with Wiza promising to keep the office empty until the city’s long-winded property maintenance codes were rewritten.
But Wiza backtracked that decision, hiring Kordus in February as a full-time employee, and changing the name of the position to “Neighborhood Improvement Coordinator”.
“One reason I was hired for the job, I think, is there are a couple of different options to code enforcement; there’s the heavy-handed approach, then there’s a the softer and gentler approach,” Kordus said on Friday. “I think I’m the gentler approach. But ultimately, you’re striving for compliance — ideally, voluntary compliance.”
Kordus, who lives in Mosinee, has experience in both private and public sectors, having mostly recently worked for a private consulting firm in Wausau. Prior to that, the Madison Area Technical College grad worked for the Village of Weston and Lincoln Co. Planning and Zoning, and has plenty of experience working on shore-land zoning ordinances.
“You want to talk about a hot-button issue — it’s shore-land zoning,” he said, laughing. “That’s something people feel very strongly about.”
Since taking the job at City Hall, Kordus said he’s been dealing with a range of property violations ranging from minor neighborhood disputes to major home repairs and hoarding problems.
“I don’t look at my job as making people’s lives more difficult; us sending them fines doesn’t make things better, it doesn’t make the problem so away,” he said. “I’m looking at some of these old cases — some of these people we’ve fined $1,000. The problem is still there, so how did that make anything better? It just made the problem worse in many cases, because these are people who have a difficult time fixing the problem, like a new roof or something.”
Under current ordinance, the city will send a letter to property owners outlining the violation, asking for the problem to be corrected, typically within 10 days. Potentially dangerous violations, such as improper chemical storage or an abandoned refrigerator, will be removed immediately at the property owner’s expense.
Violations not corrected by the letter’s deadline incur a $100 service fee. Additional letters- each with a separate $100 service fee- will be sent every two weeks until the problem is corrected.
To help avoid hefty fines, Kordus said, he works with local organizations including nonprofit and church groups, and helps direct property owners to the right program if they need help completing the repairs.
“There’s a group in Wausau I’ve worked with before called Backyard Missions; it’s a statewide program that any church can join, unfortunately there are no churches in Point that are a part of this program,” Kordus said. “But it’s a really unique program; churches will only work with people who are not their members and all the referrals have to be anonymous.”
But no matter what kind of programs are available offering help, Kordus said some people just don’t want it.
“That’s really a tough one; you can’t give anyone help who doesn’t want it. You have to help them come to a realization they can’t fix the problem on their own, and that’s the approach I use. You don’t want them to shut down because then you don’t get anywhere.”
While he spends a good portion of his day dealing with property code violations, Kordus is also working on the property maintenance code rewrite.
“I would say I’d be the primary author of those, along with Michael [Ostrowski, director of community development], obviously,” he said. “What we’ve just started actually is the housing survey — we’ve gotten 300 responses in a week. The survey is very important because that’s critical information; it shows what residents think is acceptable and not acceptable.”
The survey is open to all city residents, he said, and will help craft new ordinances — some of which are currently tough to enforce.
“If I get a complaint, I have to go check it out,” he said. “Right now, as an enforcement entity of the code, if I go into a rental property, or even a single-family home, I have to find out if people are blood relatives. How do you enforce that? I also think that’s a little bit of a reach. There has to be a balance between what government’s core responsibility are and reaching a little bit too far.”
Kordus said so far, the city was getting “really clear guidance” on property codes.
“Some of it’s going to be a pretty drastic change compared with what’s in the ordinances now,” he said. “That survey is going to make our job a lot easier because we’ll be able to codify those things, and make the code a little easier to understand and enforce, and probably make a lot of people in the City of Stevens Point happy.”
The survey can be found at ww.surveymonkey.com/r/StevensPointsurvey. Deadline to submit a survey is July 12.