Survey results show Niles has work to do

NILES — Residents and business owners still have negative perceptions of city government despite the efforts of officials to move beyond those perceptions, according to results of a recent survey of the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber.

The Regional Chamber, which has contracted with Niles for $35,000 for economic development and advocacy services, conducted a survey in December to try to understand what issues concern residents and businesses and what could bolster the economic health of the community. The survey netted 287 responses, with 84 percent from Niles residents.

The perception exists that the administration and workers aren’t professional in dealings with customers and that city workers don’t know or fully perform their jobs, results state. Respondents also believe the city doesn’t communicate clearly and transparently and a perception still exists that corruption is prevalent, the results state.

“Business owners seem to want utility, tax and planning departments that are friendly and easy to deal with as well as accurate in billings and transactions,” survey results state. “Respondents suggested that the administration should be more proactive and involved.”

An overwhelming number of respondents said the city can serve the business community and residents better by cleaning up blight, enforcing zoning regulations and enhancing safety measures, the survey states.

Jeff Crowley, housing and zoning code enforcement officer, said the city is already aggressively pursuing blighted properties for demolition through the Trumbull County Land Bank. Last year, 15 homes were demolished and at least nine are approved for demolition this year, he said.

Right now, just more than 9 percent of homes in Niles are vacant, Crowley said. The city has taken steps to better address this, including making Crowley’s position full time, hiring a part-time housing inspector and raising dwelling permit fees. The city will also have to consider repurposing, or maybe even re-zoning certain areas, if they truly want to revitalize Niles.

“We know where we have vacant structures, we know our target areas and we take steps to condemn them and demolish them,” Crowley said.

After homes are demolished, neighboring property owners have the option of buying the vacant land for $500 or the land bank will fence the property and maintain it, Crowley said. Neighbors are generally supportive of bringing blight homes down and there is generally a trend that fixing or tearing down eyesore properties leads to a morale boost among residents in the neighborhood who in turn fix up their properties, Crowley said.

Ed Stredney, Niles director of public service, said the administration will take steps to address concerns listed among survey results, starting with a public neighborhood input meeting 6 p.m. March 29 at the Niles Wellness Center.

“We’ve changed the way we are doing things but these things don’t happen overnight,” Stredney said. “We hope the public shows up at the meeting so we can have some good dialogue taking place and we can start creating some branches off this tree.”

Sarah Boyarko, senior vice president of economic development at the Regional Chamber, said seeking input from businesses and residents is an important part of revitalizing any community.

“You have to have feedback from those who would be directly impacted by change, and in this case, it was plentiful,” she said. “We are still receiving phone calls with suggestions.”

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