By TOM JACKSON and ANDY OURIEL
Sandusky city commissioners and other public officials are weighing in on the crisis at Hoppers mobile home park, where nearly a dozen residents are just weeks away from possible homelessness.
While some commissioners continue to struggle for answers, others have placed themselves smack in the middle of the fray, fighting to help the park's residents as the city marches toward an Aug. 1 deadline to shut off the park's water service.
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The property owner, Joe Yost, is tens of thousands of dollars behind on payments for water service at the mobile home park. The residents have said they paid Yost for water service, but city officials said Yost never paid the water bill.
Last week, the Register asked all seven city commissioners to respond to this question: "Do you believe the city should attempt to do something to help the residents, either by delaying the deadline for them to move, or by helping them with financial assistance so that they can successfully relocate? Or is the city willing to supply them with individual water meters, or individual billing accounts, so that residents who pay their monthly water bill can continue to receive service?"
Commissioners Diedre Cole, Jeff Smith and Julie Farrar responded to the Register before Monday's commission meeting, either by email or phone.
Commissioner Wes Poole sent an email Saturday that said he was having email problems. At Monday's meeting, he had little to say.
Commissioners John Hamilton, Pervis Brown and Keith Grohe did not reply, although they offered a few quick opinions on the matter at Monday's meeting.
Smith, Cole and Farrar said they do not favor extending the deadline for the planned shutoff of water service at the mobile home park, even as some residents continue struggling to find a new place to live.
•Said Cole: "No one can accuse the city of acting hastily in this situation and Mr. Yost was provided every opportunity to rectify this problem well before now. I also don't support extending the deadline; that's what got us to this point, we simply need to fix the problem."
•Said Smith: "It is the city of Sandusky's responsibility to provide water to all residents in Sandusky, it is the responsibility of the property owner to pay that bill, he has not."
•Said Farrar: "Mr. Yost was put on notice in March the water was going to be shut off. We are at a point where Mr. Yost has to pay his bills."
Others at the meeting who addressed the issue:
•Sandusky fire Chief Paul Ricci: "The city of Sandusky cannot go into a mobile home community and enforce the code ... No one in our city should ever have to live like this. How do we prevent this from happening again? I'll tell you how: I'm going to park myself on (city law director Don) Icsman's doorstep to strengthen our code ... so we can mitigate trash, tires, grass weeds, unsafe and unhealthy conditions."
•Sandusky finance director Hank Solowiej: "We had people living there unknowingly paying rent to a landlord who is not paying us. That brought up a more collaborative effort of talking to the police chief, fire chief, public safety concerns going on out there, discussions with the Erie County Board of Health about the public health issues out there. And I think we all became aware that, with the water issue aside, there were many issues going on out there that concerns a lot of agencies. ... The city wasn't being the bad guy, it was all of us trying to work together to get the people somewhere else. It's not their fault we are in this situation — the property owner is responsible for this. That is where the blame needs to be."
•Erie County environmental health director Bob England: "The city of Sandusky brought this to our attention, taxes that weren't paid and utilities that weren't paid for quite some time. And their only recourse is to shut off the water. The determination is when, how and why do they do that? When you shut off water to a community like this, the water is the lifeblood of the community. ... If the water is shut off, there are all sorts of health consequences. .... In discussing that with the city, the city manager's office and also the fire department, we all agreed to meet with the community and make them aware of the resources that are out there."
Ricci, England and city officials organized a meeting earlier this month near Hoppers mobile home park, where they met with residents in hopes of pointing them to social services and other public assistance available.
This past week, some of the residents said they're still struggling to find a new home or cobble together resources to secure a new place.
England said that of the 30 homes at the mobile home park, "five or six are in limbo and, of those five or six, two or three have an option (for) a waiting list."
Cole, however, spent much of last week out at the park, helping residences clean the place and learning more about each person's individual needs. She said there are at least 10 families or individuals still in need of assistance.
"In the old days, when neighbors faced hardships, everyone pitched in and helped," Cole said. "Government was a last resort, not a first. Whatever happened to that? Maybe the Register could start a fund at a local bank to which I will gladly contribute what I can."
Ricci said the community event he helped organized for the park's residents was intended to lead them to viable solutions.
"Only time will tell if we were successful or not," Ricci said at Monday's commissions meeting, his voice emotional. "I find it incredibly inexcusable for anyone, anywhere to interpret our efforts to be meaningless or ineffective. We care about our city — we want what's best for our citizens and we will get it done."
Farrar said city officials may be willing to help the residents on a case-by-case basis until everyone has been housed.
Smith, also a landlord, said he will try to help anyone who calls him.