Akron is hoping to crack down on the city’s meth problem.
City Council passed legislation Monday that requires property owners to pay for the law enforcement cost of cleaning up a methamphetamine lab, which is similar to ordinances adopted by other local communities, including Cuyahoga Falls and Norton.
Many cities are looking for help in covering the expense for meth lab cleanups because federal money that previously was provided for this cost dried up in February 2011.
In Akron, a property owner’s expense for a first offense is capped at $1,200. On a repeat offense, there is no limit.
“We want to equip them [the police] with as many tools as we can,” said Councilman Jeff Fusco, who worked on the legislation with Councilman Garry Moneypenny, a retired chief deputy of the Summit County Sheriff’s Office.
Meth is a drug made by cooking ingredients including over-the-counter medications. The process creates dangerous chemical residues that can seep into walls and carpeting.
Akron property owners who are billed for a cleanup will have the right to appeal to the police chief. The bill will be for the cost of personnel to dismantle the lab and the equipment/materials that are used.
“We shouldn’t be passing this cost on to taxpayers,” Moneypenny said.
Akron police have undergone training so they can break down meth labs, rather than hiring an outside lab, which has greatly reduced the expense of cleanups, said Lt. Brian Simcox of the department’s meth unit.
City Council also approved two other pieces of legislation related to meth. The first provides $10,000 for a campaign to educate the public about the danger of meth labs and the by-products left behind.
Moneypenny said part of the money collected from property owners to cover cleanup costs will go toward continuing the education campaign, but he said council wanted to go ahead and start the effort right away.
Police officers with the city’s meth unit have already been giving presentations at council members’ ward meetings and to neighborhood groups. Officers recently met with volunteers with Keep Akron Beautiful, which will have its annual cleanup effort next week, so they can be on the lookout for meth lab materials that have been discarded.
The last piece council adopted was a resolution that urges the state to adopt standards for when a property that formerly housed a meth lab is considered cleaned up and can come off a registry maintained by the Summit County Sheriff’s Office. Currently, no such standards exist. The Akron Board of Realtors urged council to adopt this resolution.
State Sen. Frank LaRose, R-Copley Twp., plans to introduce statewide meth legislation within the next month that would include cleanup standards. He said he would like to see the Ohio Department of Health and/or the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency develop those cleanup requirements.
LaRose surveyed other states and found that requirements vary greatly, ranging from razing the structure to simply steam cleaning.
“It can’t be that you have to burn the house down and dispose of the ashes,” LaRose said. “They have to be able to remediate that property to a standard and get it back on the market.”
The cleanup standards have been a major stumbling block in a debate that has been raging in the legislature for years about proposals that would require property owners to disclose any meth history and create a statewide website.
“We recognize that there’s something we need to do,” LaRose said. “I don’t want a loved one or anyone exposed.”
He added that he doesn’t have all the answers and welcomes input in shaping the legislation.
Summit County created a database and public website in 2008 to identify all properties in the county that have been tainted by methamphetamine. The local effort followed news stories about a woman who bought a home in Stow, unaware that the property had been used as a meth lab.
Since then, many communities now require home sellers to disclose a property’s meth history.
The county’s website (http://www.co.summit.oh.us/sheriff/ Meth_Sites/Meth_Sites.asp) is searchable by ZIP code or street. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration also maintains a website called the National Clandestine Laboratory Register (http://www.justice. gov/dea/seizures/index.html).
The DEA site lists 884 sites in Ohio. The vast majority are in Summit County, where there are 324. And the majority of those, 256, are in Akron. There are more meth sites in Akron than in every other county in the state.
Simcox said Akron doesn’t have a bigger meth problem than other areas, but is simply more aggressive about addressing it. Akron police have dismantled more than 600 labs in the past 10 years and 62 so far this year.
“We do not have a problem that is any worse,” Simcox said. “We’re just more proactive to go out and get it.”