(Note: Since this article first ran several months ago, the City Council appointed a group of 7 citizens to review the details of a rental permit system and to produce a plan for Council consideration. They have held several meetings so far and are currently reviewing specifics of a system for San Marcos. Their meetings are open to the public and are held in the city hall conference room. Citizen comments are welcome. They are expected to forward their recommendation to Council sometime in February. — John Thomaides)
By JOHN THOMAIDES
During my time on the City Council, there have been issues that continuously re-surface and we never quite seem to come to an agreement on how to best deal with them. The big issue we are dealing with right now is the Sagewood situation. This area of our city located right off of Craddock Ave. is perhaps the most visible, (and loudest) example of rental property neglect, but certainly not the only part of town that experiences problems.
Make no mistake; I believe that having a thriving and vibrant rental property market in San Marcos is essential to the success of Texas State University and the city tax rolls. Two years ago this same issue was the subject of another long city council meeting where surrounding property owners were asking the city to please do something about Sagewood. At that time we were presented with a set of options, which included a rental permit system or the creation of a code enforcement department, and we chose the latter. At the time code-enforcement was operated during regular business hours out of the planning department and was under staffed and under funded. I can now report that while it is still not perfect, it is much more efficient, innovative, and it does get results. We have made great progress with that part of our solution, however we still find ourselves in a community with a large problem. After our meeting on September 4th, there was a strong consensus on the council to direct the City Manager to begin formulating a rental permit system.
In June I attended the Best Practices in Building University City Relations conference in Gainesville Florida, the host city of The University of Florida. There were about 25 university and city delegations present and it was a terrific resource of information. We learned in our breakout sessions that many cities have the same or similar town-gown issues, specifically the rental property issues. The city of Gainesville, with a population of 100,000 and a university population of 50,000 has instituted the rental permit system, as had many of the cities in attendance. All of the city and university officials with this system I spoke with were pleased with the results and recognized just how difficult it is to begin a permit system and the need to understand that not all citizens will be completely happy with the results. They also assured me however, that they would never consider going back to not having a system like this in place. A few of the rental property program details there are:
By dealing with the often more permanent owner of the rental property, this program addresses one of the fundamental issues, which is trying to educate renters that often turn over once or twice a year. With such a great deal of turnover of renters in San Marcos, it is impossible to fully educate, and enforce every city ordinance. Implementation of this system will provide the city with the tools to enforce a reasonable set of standards for rental units and protect the property values of surrounding homeowners and the safety of the persons renting the units. It will send a message to prospective homeowners that this city is serious about taking care of itself and making the town safe and attractive. Most of all, it will finally allow us as a community to come to an agreement and move beyond this issue.
Respectfully submitted for your consideration,
City Council Place 6