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Workers board up the windows and doors of the Atlas Motel on Monday, Oct. 8, 2018, in west Cheyenne. The 91-year-old motel was shuttered by owner Yong Kim after a natural gas company detected a leak on the property. Kim has agreed to demolish the facility after a conversation with Mayor Marian Orr, who has made fighting blight a spotlight of her administration. Blaine McCartney/Wyoming Tribune Eagle

CHEYENNE – This summer, city staff reexamined the process they use to deal with nuisances and blighted properties in town. By merging multiple departments under the new Compliance Division, the goal was to cut costs and increase efficiencies while addressing health and safety risks caused by these properties.

City leaders say the effort has been successful. In the Compliance Division, the city’s building, risk and safety, and nuisance departments now work together, along with city Chief of Staff Eric Fountain as the Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator and staff from the Human Resources Department.

In looking at the compliance process as a whole before the consolidation, Fountain asked, “If the ultimate goal is to fight the blight, why do we have all these fragmented pieces?”

During the city’s Strat Ops strategic planning process, Fountain said they discovered the departments involved in compliance weren’t communicating with each other. The lack of collaboration led to less efficiency in the departments and confusion from constituents.

“Nobody knew who to complain to,” Fountain said.

The nuisance division handles issues such as trash or abandoned cars on private property that violate the city code, while the Building Department can board up windows and address violations of the International Property Maintenance Code. Fountain said some owners of blighted properties that were worked on by the city had trouble figuring out who to call.

All calls are now directed to the Compliance Division, which can handle everything from overgrown tree branches to condemnation of properties. Fountain said this also ensures that the information given to residents is the same across the board.

“It’s one city, one standard, and we follow that rule,” Fountain said.

Before the merger, the nuisance division was addressing a portion of abatement for blighted properties without looping in the Building Department, which begins to play a role when nuisances involve the property maintenance code.

“They were identifying properties long before they got to the blight list,” Fountain said. “(The) Building (Department), on the other hand, had no clue this was happening.”

By having both departments under the same umbrella, one employee is able to see a certain case or complaint all the way through until a solution is reached. That way, the city can work with a property owner on finding a plan that works instead of letting the property worsen to the point of condemnation.

In looking at the processes in each department, Fountain also said they found multiple city employees who were performing similar roles. So far, the city has saved about $150,000 in salaries through combining the divisions, and Fountain said they expect the savings to continue increasing.

For Chief Building Officer Bruce Trembath, the biggest benefit of the change is it will improve the health and safety of residents. But Trembath also stressed how important it is to educate the public about the city’s processes.

While one of the bigger changes has to deal with nuisances, the Compliance Division also oversees building permitting, risk management and ADA compliance. The city is trying to increase efficiencies in all those areas, and for Trembath, as the head of the Building Department, that will include getting the city’s permitting process online.

Trembath said having more open communication with residents about what the department is trying to accomplish will help in the long run, especially when they can provide helpful feedback on issues like the permitting process.

“I think we can make progress that way,” Trembath said.

Fountain added: “The ultimate goal is to help the constituency maintain their lives and maintain a level of safety for everybody else around them.”

Margaret Austin is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s local government reporter. She can be reached at maustin@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3152. Follow her on Twitter at @MargaretMAustin.

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