From Tulsa County by RON PETERS
Chairman, Tulsa Board of County Commissioners
While most citizens of Tulsa County live in one of the 10 cities in the County, over 35,000 live in the unincorporated areas of Tulsa County, outside of any city limits.
People choose to live in the unincorporated areas for a variety of personal reasons.
They enjoy a more rural setting, there are fewer people and less commercial development, they can acquire more land, and they aren’t as limited in the development of their land by zoning and building codes.
For those who live in the unincorporated areas of Tulsa County, it is county government that is responsible for providing them with essential public safety and public health services.
Among those public health and safety services provided by the county in the unincorporated areas are the policing on how properties are taken care of and maintained by the property owners.
Typically, county governments don’t have a department that some cities do, such as Working in Neighborhoods or Community Development, which have the responsibility to respond and remediate properties that pose health and public safety hazards. As a result, most of the time the county response to these conditions is performed by the Tulsa City County Health Department.
The Tulsa Board of County Commissioners recognizes the importance of addressing these concerns by our neighbors in the unincorporated areas and the need for an enforceable and effective response when properties are not maintained and result in either public health or public safety concerns.
From the complaints received on properties that pose public health and public safety hazards most are in County Commission District 1 represented by Commissioner John Smaligo and District 2 represented by Commissioner Karen Keith.
This past summer, the Board of County Commissioners formed a Property Maintenance Task Force whose purpose is to develop an effective and sustainable action plan to respond to the public health and public safety concerns created by neglected property in the unincorporated areas.
This Task Force is comprised of staff from the County Inspections Department, the City County Health Department, the Sheriff’s Office, the District Attorney’s Office, and the Office of the Commissioners. The Task Force work has been focusing on three components of an action plan: (1) legally what can the county do; (2) administratively, how would the county do it; and (3) financially, how much will the effort cost and how will an effective response be funded?
It is clear that the legal authority to clean up properties and/or declare properties dilapidated is in place and rests with the County Commission. To date, the action taken under this authority has been handled by the Health Department within a very limited budget to do so. Because of all the other needs which the Health Department is required to address, tackling unkempt property issues has not received as high of a priority as the Commissioners believe is necessary.
The authority also is in place for either the Health Department or Sheriff’s Office to issue citations where there are violations of the Health Department rules and regulations, which have been adopted by the Commission. For this to be effective it is necessary that there is a priority within the District Attorney’s Office to enforce these rules and regulations and to prosecute violations.
Funding an effective response will have to begin with the County dedicating the funds necessary for the destruction and removal of properties declared dilapidated. Once a property is removed, the costs necessary to do this becomes a lien on the property and will be collected from the property owner. Collected funds will then be placed in an account to fund more removals. The goal is eventually to have a revolving fund in place that is self-sustaining and can fund an ongoing effort.