Fairmont City Council mulls 'drug house' ordinance

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MARION COUNTY, W.Va (WDTV) - Speaking before Fairmont City Council Tuesday night, Chief Steve Shine described the heavy workload falling on the shoulders of his officers. Even with the force dwindling in size, they're making more arrests than they were five years ago. He attributes that to the growing drug problem.

And some, who are dealing drugs or struggling with addiction, find themselves in so-called drug houses, which Shine says can disrupt a community.

"A lot of times it's not just the fact that they're feeding drugs into the community," said Shine. "It's that they're becoming a hot-bed of criminal activity."

In an effort to crack down on this activity council members are considering an ordinance that would give them more teeth to hold landlords responsible for the conduct of their tenants.

"So if a house has two or more calls for drug usage then we can issue an order to the property owner to correct the issue within a certain amount of time," said Robin Gomez, the city manager of Fairmont.

Issues of abatement can even apply to hotels in the area. Several of which have seen their fair share of crimes.

"Until people are told point-blank that there's gonna be repercussions and you need to do something," said Shine. "I mean, a lot of people are just lazy."

The idea for the ordinance was inspired by similar ones adopted by other cities like Martinsburg, Huntington, and Clarksburg.

The trend has drawn backlash from the ACLU-West Virginia chapter. Last August, the chapter's policy director told 5 News the spate of drug house ordinances was "constitutionally concerning and frankly, bad policy."

Gomez told 5 News that city officials are working to refine the ordinance's language and ensure it is legally sound.

A draft of the ordinance is expected to come before City Council by the end of the month.