City Council Passes Drug House Ordinance

Councilwoman Wendy Scatterday, left, addresses members of Wheeling City Council at the body’s meeting Tuesday.

WHEELING — The city will now be able to take more action against properties hosting criminal activity after Wheeling City Council passed a Drug House Ordinance.

Council members voted unanimously to approve the ordinance at its meeting Tuesday. The ordinance will allow the city to file abatement orders, often resulting in eviction, on those who own properties with evidence of certain illegal activity.

Specifically, the ordinance targets “drug and gang houses, houses of prostitution and other disorderly premises,” according to its language.

“I would thank the chief of police and police officers for bringing this forward to the Public Safety Committee, for the committee for listening and for staff for putting it all together,” said Councilman Dave Palmer, chairman of the committee.

Police Chief Shawn Schwertfeger first proposed the city adopt a Drug House Ordinance at a May 20 committee meeting, based on its success in other West Virginia municipalities such as Martinsburg, Clarksburg and Fairmont. Schwertfeger, who wasn’t present at the meeting, thanked city staff and Council for their work on the ordinance in a separate statement.

“As our city and region continue to battle the opioid and drug epidemic, we must find alternative ways to combat this problem and to assure the safety of our neighborhoods,” Schwertfeger said. “This proven tool is one in a multi-faceted approach to get the upper hand and to achieve our mission of assuring a safer community.”

According to the ordinance, houses can be deemed a public nuisance if they are used for drug possession, storage, delivery or trafficking as well as illegal gambling and prostitution.

Properties must be used in connection with two or more such offenses or incidents within a 12-month period or involve an offense that is punishable by imprisonment for a year or more.

“This style of ordinance has already been successful in a few communities and I pledge to apply it fairly and professionally with the common goal of safety that we all share,” Schwertfeger said.

Council also heard from Wheeling resident Charles Ballouz on the matter, who said he has been concerned about the existence of “crack houses” in the city’s neighborhoods since the ’80s.

“It needs extra teeth in the law for police to do their job,” Ballouz said. “Knowing where a crack house is is one thing, but doing something about it is a good thing.”

In other matters, council approved two spending ordinances for asbestos abatement and demolition of 14 properties around the city. The city will pay the company Edgco Inc. about $169,000 for the work.

The demolition contract is the first of more to possibly come in future months, said Nancy Prager, Wheeling’s director of economic and community development.

“These structures have been deemed uninhabitable and in need of demolition for the safety of surrounding property owners,” she said.

Council heard from representatives of the Wheeling Police Department and Wheeling Fire Department, who vouched their support for the new plan for a public safety building on 19th Street proposed to council’s Public Safety Committee on Monday.

Assistant Fire Chief Jim Blazier, speaking on behalf of Chief Larry Helms, said Helms has been involved in early planning and is in agreeance with how the project is progressing.

“We are in support of the new location, also look forward to being continually involved in planning and design of much needed facility,” Lt. William Noice said of WPD.

City Manager Robert Herron added that the city on Tuesday began the process of planning for the facility to the extent that it can without yet owning the property.

Herron further welcomed Assistant City Manager William Lanham II, who was present at the meeting after starting in the position on Monday. Lanham previously served as city manager of Fayetteville.

Council also approved an ordinance at the meeting to spend $28,931 on improvements at the city playground in Fulton.

“The installation of new equipment at the Fulton Playground is a part of the long-term plan to improve neighborhoods throughout the city,” said Councilman Ken Imer. “At this point, more than half of the city playgrounds have been renovated.”

Mayor Glenn Elliott made several appointments at the meeting, first naming Ron Scott to Wheeling’s Arts and Cultural Commission. He also appointed Jeremy West and Tom Connor to the Planning Commission.

In addition, council approved a resolution determining appropriations for $1.6 million in oil and gas lease money. The money will be used for city-wide demolitions, paving and storm sewer work and parks and recreation upgrades.

Councilwoman Wendy Scatterday proposed an amendment to the appropriations resolution decreasing the number of specific projects outlined in the document. Council voted 5-2 against the amendment, with Scatterday and Councilwoman Melinda Koslik supporting it.

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