Ordinance helps local company, but it hurts homeowners

At least one contractor has used a city of Medford ordinance to acquire more business by reporting homeowners whose sidewalks need repairs.

According to city officials and property owners, the company, Superior Concrete, has filed complaints with the city about sidewalk problems while at the same time publicizing its concrete business to the homeowners it was turning in.

Superior Concrete, which has a contractor's license but lacks a city business license, has reported at least 17 properties to city officials for sidewalk defects, said Lorraine Peterson, city public works business manager. Those who file complaints about sidewalks are not required to give their name, but in those 17 instances, Superior Concrete identified itself as the complainant, Peterson said.

Superior Concrete owners Matt and Lynne Ray, of Central Point, also left their company's advertising materials at those properties, Peterson said. The city has received reports that the company left their advertising materials at other properties as well, she said.

At least one homeowner thought the timing was suspicious.

"I had their card on my door one day, and the next day there was a letter in the mail from the city saying I need to repair my sidewalk," said Lionel Wall, whose home in West Medford was reported by Superior Concrete. The sidewalk in front of his home had been lifted up by tree roots, Wall said.

But Matt Ray said his company was performing a service.

"Superior Concrete Inc. is dedicated to public safety," he said. "Having lifting or sunken sidewalks is a trip hazard to anyone walking on the sidewalks. It's important to maintain public sidewalks for safety."

Ray said his company will renew its city business license today.

Some City Council members said Thursday that the incidents demonstrate a need to change the city's ordinance to better protect property owners from manipulation by contractors.

"I would like to avoid contractors looking for defects, turning in residents and then, bidding on the job," said Mayor Gary Wheeler. "That's unethical."

"A cement contractor reporting these violations and then, trying to suggest the work for themselves is in my humble opinion predatory," said City Councilman Bob Strosser. "The last thing we want to do is during a difficult economic time hold residents at ransom for manipulation of our code."

Currently, when the city receives a complaint about a property, a city inspector goes to the property to examine the sidewalk and determine if it's in need of repair. If the sidewalk is a safety hazard, the city sends the property owner a letter notifying them of their responsibility to correct the problem within 30 days. The city does not regularly inspect sidewalks for violations.

"Our process is complaint driven," Strosser said.

Wall said when he received Superior Concrete's business card followed by the city letter, he called the number on the card to confront the owners, but his phone call wasn't returned. The city's engineering department provided Wall with a list of concrete contractors in the city, and Superior Concrete was listed as one of them, he said. Wall hired a different contractor to do the approximately $700 in work needed to repair the sidewalk.

"I think somebody wasn't paying attention to what was going on when the city got so many complaints filing in at one time," Wall said. "I'd be looking to see what was going on."

It's unclear whether the other contractors on the list given out to property owners have business licenses. The city has not done a check of the contractors' business licenses but planned to do so on Monday at the Mail Tribune's request, said Paul Morrow, city accounting supervisor.

The city discovered Superior Concrete lacked a business license after someone inquired about it, Peterson said. The company won't be fined unless it continues to do work without a license, Morrow said. The fine is $150 per day, he said.

The city sent the Rays a letter Wednesday notifying them that they need a business license and that they may not do business in the city until that license is renewed.

Cory Crebbin, city public works director, said his office now takes note of contractors who report sidewalk defects and notifies property owners when a contractor is the complainant.

The city also is considering ways to give property owners more time to make repairs without having to appeal to the City Council.

The council typically receives two to three appeals from property owners for extensions, often because they can't afford to repair the sidewalk within 30 days, Crebbin said.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or pachen@mailtribune.com.

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