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The process of getting a referendum onto this year’s general election ballot, regarding whether Johnstown’s city manager should be required to live in the municipality, took a significant step forward on Wednesday.
Ebensburg’s long-time manager Daniel Penatzer has been named interim city manager for Johnstown through Jan. 3.
New procedural guidelines for codes inspection in the City of Johnstown are planned to be finalized soon, possibly even by the end of next week.
John Dubnansky, who became economic development director less than two months ago, has been examining ordinances and meeting with staff in an attempt to clarify and update policies, according to a report he provided during City Council's regular monthly meeting on Wednesday.
“Obviously when taking this job on, I knew this was an issue,” Dubnansky said. “And so, what I've been doing is gathering the information, and tearing it apart and building something back together. I'm updating the procedural document for the codes enforcement officers to utilize, to make sure they're adhering to the guidelines that we have set forth in different ordinances and information. We're going to test that out. We're also looking at having them taking on rental inspections. We're evaluating that as well.”
Robert Ritter, the acting city manager, said Dubnansky is “studying the whole situation.”
“I don't think he really knows yet what is going to transpire,” Ritter said. “We have three codes people there now. It's just a matter of determining what procedures they need to take, how to make it uniform around the city, how to make sure things get addressed that keep getting brought up so that they don't keep getting brought up.”
There are currently 800 to 900 blighted properties in Johnstown, according to information provided by the city.
Of them, 116 have been boarded up by the Johnstown Fire Department, according to Chief Robert Statler. JFD has also stored the list of vacant properties in a database that firefighters can use when on scene.
“I've got a good record of what we've boarded up,” Statler said.
He also thinks improvements can be made to the city's process.
“There is a lot of stuff that needs tweaked based off of old practices and changing some rules and ordinances to come up to compliance with new stuff,” Statler said.
City Council members Charlene Stanton and Jack Williams, two of the most vocal critics of how enforcement is handled, previously supported a resolution calling for the city to seek requests for proposal from third-party sources to handle codes. The matter was taken off table during Wednesday's meeting and then defeated with Stanton supporting, but Mayor Frank Janakovic, Deputy Mayor Marie Mock, Ricky Britt, Rev. Sylvia King and Dave Vitovich opposing and Williams absent.
Stanton felt the RFP should be considered due, in part, to the city's tentatively projected $600,000 deficit in its 2020 budget.
“I think, council, we owe it to the city to a least advertise, and get a RFP to see if we can get a cheaper price,” Stanton said. “We're facing a $600,000 deficit here. Can we get a cheaper price for code enforcement? It doesn't hurt to advertise and see what's out there.”
Janakovic, Mock and Vitovich spoke during the meeting in support of giving Dubnansky time to develop a plan.
“I think we should give him a chance before we throw this thing out there,” Mock said.
George Hayfield is still Johnstown’s city manager. A resolution to have him terminated – for cause – was tabled during Wednesday’s regular monthly City Council meeting.
Johnstown will soon advertise for a new economic development director.
The land by the base of the Johnstown Inclined Plane is currently a nondescript wooded area next to a river.