CFN – Liane Geoffrion was a member of the newly formed Property Standards Advisory Committee in Cornwall Ontario.
She submitted this letter to the Editor after resigning from the Committee and moving to nearby Long Sault in South Stormont Ontario.
“Our story begins in 2011 when my husband and I moved to Cornwall and bought a house on a supposedly safe and quiet street.
Within a few months, a neighborhood apartment complex became our worst nightmare with mountains of garbage bags, sofas and mattresses stored on porches and a different grocery buggy parked on the sidewalk every day.
Complaining to the city did not help; after 37 e-mails sent to Property Standards in 4 months, everyday more junk was accumulating and everyone was ignoring our problems. After 7 months of complaining with little success, I joined the City’s new Property Standards Advisory Committee. The committee however, had no chair for the first 5 months and no set priorities! All the staff of Property Standards Department also attended meetings; they were not members of the committee but they loaded agendas and controlled discussions so that “lack of enforcement” issues could not be addressed.
While I was working hard at representing frustrated citizens as myself, a “Salvage Yard” operation at the corner of Second St. and Carleton St. was added to the list of ongoing complaints. Residents there were scavenging garbage all night and tearing things apart on their front lawn by day. The wood and metal went to the recycling plant but the sofa stuffing and leftover junk was accumulating everywhere on the lawn. An unsightly business was developing rapidly without license and in a residential zone. By mid-summer, five motor bikes were now revving or speeding up the street and the list of complaints was getting longer: drug runs, domestic violence and people chasing and screaming at each other in the middle of the night; the stress was unbearable.
After 14 months, even though I was a member of this new committee, I still did not have the support of staff and, Councillors, Mayor, Clerk and CAO still would not reply to my personal e-mails. My husband and I finally gave up, sold our house, moved out of Cornwall and I resigned from the Advisory Committee. It was a desperate decision considering our devalued property, the costs of moving not to mention recent surgery and the stress on seniors such as ourselves.
If you have similar stories and want to complain to the City, be prepared! There is: no central telephone number, no online “complaint form” and no phone numbers or emails addresses without a city contact name. Until recently, you could fill an online “Request for info” but there was no “send button”. The telephone book is not helpful either! Did you know that: garbage bags at the curb and garbage bags on porches are handled by different departments and that Public Works has different staff for different sides of the street? Poop and scoop is handled by Animal Control but, feces accumulating on private properties is enforced by Property Standards. ATV’s racing on your streets, good luck with that one! Reporting a grocery buggy on municipal and private land is also a mystery; after 4 days of waiting for Public Works, I phoned No Frills who was on the scene within an hour.
Other cities have “complaint forms” and they list contact information on their webpage so you can actually make a complaint and track it until it’s resolved. In Cornwall, if a complaint manages to reach a real person, it doesn’t matter because there is no active enforcement in place to fix the problems and nothing to prevent repeat offences either.
Many excuses are given by the City for their “no enforcement” policy: insufficient by-laws, cost is too high, not enough staff and technology problems. Interestingly enough, at a Council meeting August 2012, staff and resources were offered to Mr. Rogers, but the Supervisor of Bylaw Enforcement replied: no thank you because: “I am aware of the city’s budget restraints!” Did I mention that his entire staff of five attended the Committee meetings (as resources) although they reported being overworked and understaffed? As far as the high cost of enforcement, if fees had been imposed all these years with 2000+ complaints a year, revenues could have served to hire more staff and recover some of the cost. Another excuse used: Cornwall is a low socio-economic city; putting your garbage at the curb on time, poop and scooping, mowing your lawn does not cost you anything. Offenders and absent slum landlords should pay the consequences for not doing so!
We are also told that Cornwall has always been a friendly city so, enforcement must remain friendly. Property Standards is in the enforcement business, not a social club; getting compliance is their mandate and cleaning up the city is a Council Strategic Planning priority. In my opinion, the problem of enforcement is not complicated: if the complaint is valid, one stiff admin fee plus an inspection fees of $100.would go a long way to reduce the pile of complaints; add another re-inspection fee of $100. for each infraction repeated within a week or non-compliance. This would look after offenders throwing friendly notices in the garbage. Brand new bylaws are coming soon but, without enforcement, nothing will change!
As citizens and taxpayers, we endure and fear retaliation from our neighbours because we complain; the City would rather protect the offenders, they have more rights than we do! To add insult to injury, if we complain too much, it is said that we put a burden on the precious city staff resources. Offenders however, repeatedly ignore the bylaws and suffer no consequences whatsoever. No fines were ever issued by Nicole Robertson for garbage at curbs on the wrong day, a bylaw infraction. Garbage bags, mattresses, sofas and car seats stored on porches and lawns were not considered bylaw infractions by Chris Rogers either.
In 2012, only 4 fines were issued and zero money was collected for the whole year. In the first half of 2013, they issued 9 fines on 332 construction complaints totaling $945. and zero fines on 236 complaints for: tall grass, junk and debris, etc. A total of 600 inspections were done at no cost to offenders and 102 of these free inspections were to tell people they must cut their grass. This system of friendly notices is considered a success by this department but how can this be when not one penny was collected? How much did it cost in staff and resources; how many had to be given new notices again in a few weeks? What about: dilapidated houses, falling porches and railings, plastic garages and enclosed porches after May 1st, broken stairs and boarded up houses sitting for 20 years; there are dangerous and unsightly properties all over town but City Hall ignores their own bylaws!
The mess will reach your street any day now so, if you have been holding back from complaining or have given up in the past, please try the contacts below: your name must be kept confidential by City staff. Not a sure fix but, you could overload their systems long enough to wake up the staff and Council. Don’t forget, as Cornwall citizens, you pay the highest property taxes in Ontario for this mess to continue. Let your voice be heard!
GARBAGE PROBLEMS: at curbs and on the wrong day: ext 2589, Nicole Robertson, NRobertson@cornwall.com
PORCHES AND LAWNS: Garbage bags, debris, furniture, animal feces accumulation, building code infractions, fences and pool infractions, etc.: ext. 2345, Chris Rogers, CRogers@cornwall.com
ANIMAL CONTROL PROBLEMS: Poop and Scoop, misc. ext. 2339 or 2225
UNLICENSED BUSINESS, SCAVENGING OF RECYCLING MATERIAL, SNOW PLOWS AND HEAVY EQUIPMENT PARKED IN RESIDENTIAL ZONES: ext. 2365 Karl Doyle, KDoyle@cornwall.ca
GROCERY BUGGIES: call appropriate stores: Yellow: No Frills, Green: Food Basic, Blue: Wal-Mart, Red: Metro”
Editors note: An email was sent to Councilors Maurice Dupelle & Bernadette Clement who sit on the board.
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