By Maralisa Marra
At last week’s City Council meeting on Sept. 12, Council approved City Manager Chad Edwards, as well as the Building Commission, to move forward to solicit bids for an addition to the current city building.
Councilmember Patrick Kovalck said, “I make the motion that the mayor, Council, Building Commission, and city manager move forward to solicit bids for a 40-by-100-foot single-story addition.” The motion was seconded by Councilmember Amanda Sayers, and it passed with no opposition from the rest of Council.
In other matters, Mayor Rodney Strait brought the idea of a Shinnston land bank to Council. The land bank would help deal with dilapidated and abandoned houses. He said, “Any dilapidated buildings that would come up for tax sales or would be donated to the city, they [the land bank] will be in charge of it.” He also said that the city will still have the ability to determine what happens with the property, like demolition.
The land bank would be in charge of tracking the property; they can even buy and sell property. Strait said a land bank is sort of like the Building Commission, but they have a little “more power, leeway.”
“The Building Commission wouldn’t be able to do the things that the land bank would be able to do,” Strait noted. “We have to iron out a lot of details.”
If Council approves the Shinnston land bank, Strait said, “I think we need a diverse group.”
Kovalck made a motion to authorize Strait and Edwards to further research establishing a land bank for Shinnston. He said, “My motion is to give them approval to investigate and bring it back to the Council.”
Vice Mayor Maryann Ferris added to the motion, “My motion was to add the authorization of the mayor and city manager to proceed upon completion of their investigation…that would then give them the authorization to authorize our lawyer to begin preparation of this ordinance for our consideration.” Ferris noted that in order to form the land bank, an ordinance needs to be put in place first.
Councilmember Julia Currey seconded the motion, and it passed with no opposition, as well.
Council also discussed an ordinance concerning short-term vacation rentals.
Kovalck said, “I’ve been reading a lot of articles about cities having problems with short term vacation rentals. Investors and LLCs come in and buy properties and (it) pretty much pushes and raises the cost of living where residents really can’t afford it.”
He did say that he does not believe Shinnston will end up in that position, but “being that we have nothing on our books, any kind of ordinances, controlling short-term vacation rentals, I think it would benefit us in the areas of licenses and taxes, not only for the property owner, but for the booking agency whether it be Airbnb or VRBO.”
If they are doing business in Shinnston, they should have a business license and pay their share in taxes, according to Kovalck. He also mentioned that the short-term vacation rentals should be required to have enough parking, as well as safety inspections.
He said should there be an issue, the city should be prepared with some sort of guidelines. “I’m not trying to stop the business of this, I’m just trying to regulate,” he added.
Kovalck offered to write the ordinance and send it to City Attorney Trey Simmerman for approval.
Ferris said, “I move that we authorize Councilmember Kovalck to go ahead and proceed as he proposed.” Currey seconded Ferris’ motion.
In a later interview, Kovalck said the problems with short-term rental referenced included both “the costs of homes rising from corporations and investors buying them and the tendency for people who rent to party and not have concern for the neighbors. Because they will be gone in a couple days so what matters if they make the neighbors mad. I’m not saying this happens frequently, but the city does need a way to enforce codes and rules in this just like hotels and long term rentals. My main goal is to make sure the rooms are safe and the city collects fees and taxes that are due.”
In regards to specific codes/rules he said, “Right now, I want the property owner and the renting platform to both have city business licenses and a safety inspection once a year. I just don’t want people renting rooms that aren’t protected by a fire alarm or have egress issues in the event of (an) emergency.”
“I don’t believe it will ever be a serious problem in Shinnston, but it is better to be ahead of the game,” he added.
In other matters, Strait announced that the first Council meeting in October will take place in the regular City Council Chambers. It will be held on Oct. 11 at 7 p.m. due to Columbus Day.
Edwards said that spirit week, in accordance with Lincoln High’s homecoming week, will take place Sept. 26-Oct. 1, and the city is encouraging businesses to decorate their windows and storefronts to show their Lincoln pride. He also said there will be a Jazz Night at the city park on Oct. 9.