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May 1, 2014

City Council still mulling graffiti ordinance

Group may vote next week on financial consultant

TERRE HAUTE — The Terre Haute City Council is still searching for the right mix of ingredients to pass a city ordinance to remove graffiti.

At Thursday night’s “sunshine” meeting, the nine-member council further discussed an ordinance proposed two months ago that would require property owners to remove graffiti within 30 days of receiving notice from the city.

Failure to remove the graffiti in that time would result in a $25 fine, according to the ordinance.

One downtown property owner whose business has been the target of “tagging” and graffiti told the council she felt penalized by the proposed ordinance. That’s not the intent, answered Councilman Norm Loudermilk, D-3rd, who said the ordinance would allow the city or volunteer groups to take steps to clean up graffiti with a property owner’s permission.

In its current form, the ordinance does not spell out how the city would remove graffiti from private property; however, it does state that property owners are “the victims of graffiti” and the city wishes to find a way to work with them to “abate such nuisances.”

Last month, a similar graffiti ordinance became law in Indianapolis. The debate over that ordinance, according to Indianapolis media reports, appeared nearly identical to the debate taking place now in Terre Haute. Opponents said the ordinance victimized property owners, while supporters said graffiti is a sign of neighborhood decay and lawlessness and needs to be cleaned up in the same way other public nuisances are addressed.

The Indianapolis ordinance imposes a $50 fine after a 30-day notification period. As in Terre Haute, city officials have said they will work with property owners, and that the fine will be reserved only for those who make no effort to eliminate the problem.

Councilman Jim Chalos, D-at large, asked how the city would pay for graffiti removal, stating in some cases it could cost thousands of dollars. He also suggested it be stated in the ordinance how the city would remove graffiti because the problem differs according to the surface upon which the graffiti is painted.

Loudermilk, who introduced the ordinance, urged fellow council members to suggest amendments. The council is expected to “table” the matter for another month at its regular meeting next Thursday night in City Hall.

• The council set the stage for a vote next week on appropriating at least $10,000 for hiring a financial consultant. Last year, the council hired Sackrider & Co., a Terre Haute CPA firm, to provide members with analysis of the city of Terre Haute budget.

Councilman Loudermilk, who has spoken in the past against the ordinance, said Thursday he would support spending $10,000 because that much has been OK’d by the city administration. However, he said he will not support spending an additional $5,000 from the City Council’s budget if city officials provide figures showing the council budget will be short at the end of the year.

Two council members have recently joined the city’s health insurance plan, which may leave the council’s budget with a year-end shortfall, Loudermilk said. City officials are expected to provide an estimate of the potential shortfall next week. How much of the proposed $5,000 he would support for the consultant will depend on whether there is a shortfall and how much it is, he said.

Councilman Todd Nation, D-4th, said he favors making the full $15,000 available for a consultant, stating the service is valuable. He also said the need for “additional appropriations” during a budget year is not unusual.

The council is expected to vote on the consultant question next week.

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@tribstar.com

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