Martins Ferry police officer enforcing building codes

T-L Photo/SHELLEY HANSON MARTINS FERRY police Officer Tim Starkey looks at photos he took of blighted properties in the city. He is assisting Building Codes Administrator Betty Suto in enforcing laws related to building codes, tall grass and weeds, and trash.

MARTINS FERRY — The city of Martins Ferry is using one of its police officers to help enforce building codes.

Officer Tim Starkey already has been writing citations for violations related to trash, tall grass and weeds, and building codes violations, along with condemnations of dilapidated structures.

The city decided to employ him in this capacity to help Building Codes Administrator Betty Suto. Starkey is glad to help because he wants to help clean up the city, he said.

While patrolling the city Starkey also takes photos of codes violations.

“When I don’t have to be in the car I’m working to find the owners and sending letters and tickets,” he said.

It is not always easy locating a property owner. For example, Starkey said he recently sent a letter to a woman who, according to county records, was listed as the owner of a property. However, he found out the woman recently died.

“We didn’t know she was deceased and her son contacted us and told us the house was in foreclosure,” he said, adding he then sent a letter to bank instead.

Starkey said he wants to do what he can to improve the city.

“We started at the north end of town up to Hanover Street and hitting every road now you see all kinds of issues. There are even junk cars sitting there so we send 10-day notices,” he said.

“We see the weeds, trash, garages with roofs collapsed, vacant structures — all kinds of stuff. Whatever we can do to resolve the issue is our goal. We’re holding them accountable.”

Starkey noted if someone receives a citation and they resolve the problem, they can bring photos to their mayor’s court hearing to show the work already has been done. He noted it is up to the mayor to impose a fine or give them a break.

“Our goal here is not to fine you, but to get you to correct the situation,” Starkey said.

Starkey believes the biggest codes issue the city has is the number of vacant and blighted properties.

“In the 400 block of North Eighth Street there are five or six houses that are vacant and probably four of them need torn down.

I didn’t realize it until you start looking. … It adds up quick,” he said. “It’s going to take awhile, but we’re going to be aggressive with it.”

Police Chief John McFarland also is asking people to keep their property cleaned up.

“When we took the oath of office to become police officers for the city of Martins Ferry, we swore to enforce all federal, state and city laws. They need to be enforced,” McFarland said. “Between the two of them they should get the job taken care of.”

McFarland noted once a house is condemned, the owner cannot live in it until it is brought back up to code. They can enter it to fix it and clean it, but cannot live in it until it passes inspection.

Starkey noted having property owners fix or raze their properties also is a safety issue, as if someone enters such a property they could become injured. Also, vacant property sometimes attract people looking to steal copper wiring or pipes. Vacant properties can also become a fire hazard.

Starkey added the city is going to receive help keeping up its own vacant lots and other areas via community service workers.