Infestation frustration aired

Iolans living along South Buckeye Street aired their frustrations about a cockroach infestation from a neighboring house. The city is limited in how it can tackle the problem, the code enforcement officers said.

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Local News

July 28, 2020 - 10:10 AM

Former Iola Mayor Bill Maness speaks Monday to City Council members. Photo by Richard Luken / Iola Register

A small group of Iolans aired their frustration Monday to City Council members about cockroaches.

The little critters have become such a nuisance, former Mayor Bill Maness said, that his wife avoids working in their garden, lest she be inundated by the invaders. “And this is in broad daylight.”

The source of the Iolans’ exasperation is a two-story house at 223 S. Buckeye St.— ground zero for the neighborhood’s roach infestation

Maness joined David-Paul and Laura Cavasos and Chad Reeves in illustrating just how troublesome the pests have become.

Reeves said it’s to the point he can count hundreds of the roaches in his yard on a daily basis. “We can’t even sit on the front porch any more,” he said. “I’m having to spray every night.”

“We have worked to improve our neighborhood,” Maness said. “This property is a continuing nightmare. The cockroaches have become totally unbearable.”

The two-story home in question is rented out as apartments.

The owner has had the house sprayed multiple times in recent weeks, to no avail, Code Enforcement Officer Gregg Hutton said, with the pest control company scheduled to spray the home again every two weeks.

The problem, Hutton explained, is the spray only kills live roaches. “It doesn’t do anything to the eggs,” which take about a week to hatch.

“It’s not alleviating the problem at all,” Maness noted. 

If anything, the infestation has worsened over the past month, Reeves said. Reeves recounted that he recently set up glue traps to every entrance to his house while away for a two-day camping excursion. Upon his return, he found the traps had caught 54 roaches.

David-Paul Cavazos worried the constant spraying could be dangerous to the numerous children in the neighborhood.

“That much toxic spray cannot be good,” he said.

American cockroach.Photo by Flickr.com

CODE ENFORCEMENT officer Gregg Hutton noted the city has issued the property owner a letter, describing the cockroach infestation as a nuisance,

He acknowledged the neighbors’ frustration, but said evicting the tenants from the home does not alleviate the problem.

“The cockroaches are still there,” he said. “And we’ve got to allow the owner time to address the problem.”

The Council promised to take up the issue again at its Aug. 10 meeting — which did little to alleviate the neighbors’ frustration. The Council will invite the property owner, as well as a pest control expert, on how best to tackle cockroach infestations.

“This is a perfect example of why we need an ordinance of some type of the permitting process for renting properties,” Maness said. “How does it get this bad?”

Maness  and Laura Cavazos pointed to other issues, including past tenants getting in trouble with the law. 

Cavazos noted she and her husband have placed their home on the market.

“It doesn’t make us feel very safe,” she said. “It’s hard to sell our home.”

THE COUNCIL also was asked by Jason Barnett to look into the city’s ordinance that shifts responsibility for past-due electric bills to a property’s new owner.

Barnett finds himself in that situation after recently acquiring a home at a sheriff’s sale.

Unbeknownst to him, the past occupants owed the city $435.03 — it’s $376.36 if the late fees are waived — and utility service will not be restored until the bill is paid in full.

“There’s no reason in my mind, based on the ordinance that I’ve read, that I should be tied to that debt,” Barnett said.

Interim City Administrator Corey Schinstock disagreed, noting this incident has occurred in the past, most recently a few months ago, when a new property owner paid the bill under protest, then took the matter to the Attorney General’s office. 

The Attorney General sided with the city, Schinstock said.

“I think it’s a big mistake if we waive the fee,” Schinstock said. “If we do that, we are going to have a lot of people coming to use for reimbursements.”

Council members asked Barnett to return to their Aug. 10 meeting, after they’ve read through the ordinances, to give their response.

While it does not address Barnett’s situation, Iola Mayor Jon Wells said the city is looking into ways to better communicate ways to notify the Sheriff’s Department about past-due utilities potentially affecting future property sales.

THE FATE of the city’s work order and asset management system — a computer program that documents such things as maintenance for Iola’s fleet of vehicles — is in doubt.

Council members voted, 4-3, to reject an agreement with Cartegraph Systems LLC, to begin using Cartegraph’s system.

A short backstory: In 2018, the Council approved an agreement with SEMS Technologies to provide a work order and asset management system to the city, stemming from periodic discussions about how soon is too soon to replace aging equipment vs. the cost to repair it.

Data collection for the program took much of the following year before the SEMS program went online early this year, Schinstock said.

However, the rollout has been anything but smooth, he said, “Things just weren’t working with the program.”

He spoke on two issues in particular. The SEMS system would not allow multiple users at once. If the Fire Department, for example, logged on to enter a repair log, the Police Department would be kicked out of the system.

Add to that, many department heads have been reluctant to use the program regularly.

“I’ve heard from every one of them, how they don’t like it,” Councilwoman Kim Peterson said.

‘It is something where we’re going to have to have buy-in,” Schinstock agreed. “The program is only as good as the data you put into it.”

Schinstock recommended the city enter a new agreement with Cartegraph, which recently merged with SEMS, and has a program that should better fit Iola’s needs, he said.

The new agreement would cost the city a shade less than $15,000 annually, about $500 more than what the city is paying SEMS, plus a training fee of $8,700. (Schinstock said he anticipated the additional training to cost $10,000 or more.)

Council members weren’t as receptive. Ron Ballard, Nikolas Kinder, Gene Myrick and Peterson all voted against entering the new agreement. In favor were Steve French, Mark Peters and Carl Slaugh. Nancy Ford was absent.

With the failed motion, Wells directed the Council to bring the matter up again at its Aug. 10 meeting, with the city’s department heads in attendance to give their views about the systems.

“I’d ask the Council to come up with options,” Wells said. “I don’t think ‘no asset management’ is in our best interest.”

COUNCIL members approved, 7-0,  the city’s 2021 budget, which is supported in part by an ad valorem tax levy of just under 48 mills.

That means the owner of a $100,000 home will pay about $550 to support Iola’s general fund, industrial fund and library — all of which rely solely on property taxes. The levy does not account for taxes to support USD 257, Allen Community College or the county.

The property tax levy is virtually identical to what Iolans are paying this year.

IN OTHER news, the Council:

— Approved a bid from Ray’s Metal Depot to demolish condemned homes at 308 and 315 N. First St., 839 N. Washington Ave. and 1012 N. Cottonwood St. for a combined $12,125. Ray’s bid was the only one received.

— Approved franchise and pole agreements with Kansas Fiber Network, allowing the telecommunications company to use city utility poles for its fiber-optic cables in the east part of town.

— Met privately to discuss the ongoing city administrator vacancy, and took no action afterward.

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