Leo Lutz

Leo Lutz

By the time a resident shows up to a Columbia Borough council meeting to file a complaint about negligent property owners, crime  or nuisance neighbors, residents are already at their wits end, said Mayor Leo Lutz.

But a new program could help resolve some of those issues before residents feel they've tried every other avenue, Lutz said.

Later this month, the borough hopes to roll out a community policing program paired with codes enforcement to address problems head-on.

"A lot of the problem is around communication," Lutz said. "We don't know about cars that have been abandoned or people coming in and out of homes that maybe they aren't supposed to be living in. But residents do. The people who live there see that stuff every day."

By dividing the borough into three zones, officers will be assigned to patrol one of those zones each day that they work, Lutz said. In addition, the three part-time code enforcement officers that the borough employs will be assigned a zone.

Lutz said officers have been asked to get out of their vehicles while on patrol and walk the neighborhoods. This way, he said, residents can get to know the officers and know that they can report any problems directly to that person.

Lutz said the program is not expected to cost the borough any additional money; it's simply better organizing of police and code enforcement officer time.

Code violations and other neighborhood nuisance issues usually are brought to the borough's attention at public council meetings.

Kent Lutz, the mayor's cousin, and Nick Meley, both of Walnut Street, spoke before officials at the March council meeting about problems they see around them.

Kent Lutz has struggled to know the status of a building permit for a rundown property next to his that has squirrels and birds running out of the top floor, he said.

Meley said he has witnessed drug activity in his block and knows of landlords who don't keep up their properties. One of his neighbors went without heat for two weeks and was afraid to report the situation because she feared she'd get in trouble, Meley said.

Mayor Lutz said he is aware of problems related to certain landlords and he hopes to crack down. Part of the problem, he said, is that tenants don't realize they have rights.

"If you've got people not following procedure, we need to revoke their license," said board member Barry Ford. "We've got to get tough on these people. We could write another book on ordinances, but it's no good if we don't enforce it."

One of the problems related to lag time in enforcement is that code inspectors spend a lot of time at local hearings, Lutz said. There were 277 hearings in 2014, and already 22 scheduled for March, he said.

He hopes that having a regular presence of officers on the street helps to eliminate some of those issues.

"We need to know about things before residents get so frustrated they end up here (before council)," Lutz said. "If we know about it, we can address it sooner."