After about two years of public discussion and city staff research, the newly-formed Sedalia Rental Inspection Committee had its first meeting Wednesday evening with a full audience.
City Administrator Gary Edwards has previously told the Democrat that city staff has been researching a possible rental property inspection ordinance for about a year now. The Sedalia City Council included it as a short-term goal as part of the “Clean up Sedalia” efforts during its January 2015 strategic goal-setting session.
Council again included it as a short-term goal during its January 2016 goal-setting session. At that point, Edwards said city staff planned to present a proposed inspection program during an April council work session, which never occurred.
The members of the Rental Inspection Committee were approved during the Aug. 15 council meeting, as recommended by Mayor Stephen Galliher. The members include:
• Mayor Stephen Galliher. He was elected as committee chairman.
• Ward 1 Councilman Jeff Leeman is a landlord and is a network engineer for Midwest Computech.
• David Wiedeman is a broker at RE/MAX and a landlord.
• Terri Hunter is a broker/owner of Complete Real Estate Service and has 20 rental units. She was elected as committee vice chairman.
• Charles Leftwich is a lifelong Sedalia resident who is now retired. He ran for the vacant Ward 1 council seat in April.
• JoAnn Martin is the Pettis County Health Center Administrator and previously managed property for a rental organization in Kansas City.
• Kim Welch is a second grade teacher and is also a landlord and a real estate agent with Complete Real Estate Service.
Edwards told the committee its purpose includes, if needed, improving the health and safety of rental residential housing and improving the city’s housing stock so fewer dollars can be budgeted for demolition, the city can be more attractive for economic development purposes and the city’s credit rating can be strengthened.
“Sedalia still has many old, beautiful homes. They’re the basis for character, as many of us know, and history. This committee can take an important step toward saving many of these homes before they are lost forever. We do a lot of demolitions every year. Many of these homes are being lost because they’re in such bad shape,” Edwards said.
“… Last time we had a bond issuance, we had a strong rating but it’s not as strong as it could be. When we got our rating of A+ we had a conference call with Standard & Poor’s — ‘why did you give us an A+ instead of AA or even higher?’ They said demographics, that meant property values. We did a follow-up analysis with our financial adviser Springsted. They went into the reasons more closely and that was 30 percent of our score.”
He also went over possible tangible outcomes of the committee, including the creation of a rental inspection ordinance to be recommended to council, hearing from renters and the problems they face, requiring a business license for landlords, and improving communications between the city and landlords.
“We understand that problem (of renters who trash homes). We don’t want to put all the burden on landlords. Is there a way that problem can be addressed?” Edwards said. “… (A business license for landlords is) very inexpensive but it allows the city to know who the landlords are and how many rental units they have. In other words, get a handle on what’s out there. We don’t know what’s out there right now.”
Edwards added that a possible outcome is the committee decides a rental inspection ordinance isn’t needed.
Community Development Director John Simmons provided several demographic statistics, such as housing. In 2010, regarding single-family homes, 4,898 houses were valued higher than $40,000, 2,777 between $15,000 and $40,000, and 642 lower than $15,000.
He added that the median household income in 2014 in Sedalia of $32,354 is much lower than the state median of $48,363. Roughly 34 percent of residents in Sedalia have an income below the poverty level in 2016, compared with 20.7 percent statewide.
Simmons said the city faces habitual offenders, abandoned houses, absentee owners who don’t respond, and dissatisfied renters and neighbors. Many citizens complain the city should simply enforce current ordinances before enacting a new one, but Simmons noted that the city’s Code Enforcement Department has seen increased demands on staff, such as increased new construction and increased citizen complaints and violations.
An audience member and local landlord, Quentin Butts, asked the committee what the benefit of enacting an ordinance is to citizens.
“Are these inspections for the government of Sedalia to raise up more taxes or are they actually to benefit somebody?” Butts asked.
“A benefit to the city benefits the citizens of the city,” Galliher replied. “… We’re trying to provide safe and healthy housing for people living within the city. Safe places for people to dwell.”
Edwards said he expects the process to take between seven to 12 months, depending on how much time the committee deems is needed to come to a conclusion.
The committee will meet at 6:30 p.m. the first Wednesday of each month in the Mayor’s Conference Room at the Municipal Building. The next meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 5.
Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-530-0138 or @NicoleRCooke.