One program that has set Round Rock, Texas, apart is the fact that it is home to the first mobile tool renting center in Texas. During neighborhood cleanup activities, volunteers can come and borrow a tool at no charge to assist the city in cleaning up the neighborhood.
Joseph Brehm, director of Community and Neighborhood Services, became Round Rock’s first neighborhood services coordinator in 2012, starting the tool lending center. Since neighborhood services and code enforcement have many of the same goals in mind, the city ultimately combined them under the same department.
“With the addition of code enforcement, the community development block grant program and commercial redevelopment, the new Community and Neighborhood Services department now has the organizational structure to focus on enhancing quality of life in Round Rock by empowering residents and businesses to connect with resources that keep Round Rock a clean, safe and desirable city to live,” Laurie Hadley, city manager, described.
This new department, along with the tool rental practice, was the catalyst for the beginning of the Code Enforcement Resource program, which started in spring 2020. The idea grew from a staff meeting, including neighborhood resources and code enforcement, in which code enforcement mentioned it would soon be “slammed” after the spring rain. Representative noted the sunshine would make the grass come alive, and residents would have tall grass and weeds to be dealt with. Knowing that this is a common issue, Brehm asked the question, “So what are we going to do about it? How do we make it more effective and efficient?”
Since the city already owns and maintains tools, which it lets residents check out and use for free with the mobile tool renting center during neighborhood cleanups, the suggestion was made to get extra tools that could be stored and checked out from city hall any day of the week to keep up with tall grass or weeds and low-hanging branches. As Brehm mentioned, the city “wants to be that quintessential good neighbor and let you borrow something.”
This practice has also proven to be helpful for code enforcement. Since Round Rock does not issue fines or citations until a resident has to be taken to court, code enforcement spends a large amount of time opening cases and then performing reinspections to check if the resident now complies. Therefore, residents using the tool rental to get these issues handled also helps code enforcement work more efficiently to get cases closed as quickly as possible.
Code enforcement could then hand out door hangers to residents to let them know of the new program as well as demonstrate visually the importance of addressing such issues, such as safety concerns regarding low-hanging branches damaging vehicles or impeding pedestrians. The goal is also to show residents the city’s sense of goodwill and innovation so that, even if a resident does not need to use the service, its availability is still having a positive impact on the community.
On top of renting out the necessary tools to bring a yard up to code at no charge, code enforcement will also deliver a tool to a household if they cannot make it to city hall to rent. Since implementing the program, calls complaining about code enforcement being nitpicky about grass and branches have been reduced by 25%, and the reinspection rate has been lowered by 37%, showing a positive impact in both efficiency and attitude.
Brehm and Round Rock put this Code Enforcement Resource program to continued good use when it was used to apply for this year’s Municipal Excellence Award in City Spirit for cities over 25,000 in population. The online application, which included a short summary, a write-up and photographs, was filled out against stiff competition with other cities and only three being chosen as finalists.
Brehm is adamant that, “Even if we don’t win, it gives us the opportunity to share with other cities what we’re doing.”
However, during the 2022 Texas Municipal League Annual Conference and Exhibition in San Antonio in October, Round Rock was awarded the highest honor in the state when it won the City Spirit award for its work with the program.
The biggest goal for Brehm is spreading awareness of Round Rock’s programs, with the idea of helping other cities. He continues to apply for awards and do presentations at conferences to raise awareness of the city’s various programs. He keeps a Dropbox folder at the ready full of different city programs and ways in which other cities could implement these programs themselves. Since each of their programs has already been looked over and approved by an attorney, the programs are ready to replicate.
“That’s the real victory,” Brehm emphasized. “The impact of the program is now exponential.” Round Rock was awarded the City Spirit award one other time in 2017 for the city’s neighborhood cleanup project. This project involved one large cleanup day in which 1,200 volunteers showed up to clean approximately 20 different neighborhoods and assist the elderly or others who could not do the work on their own. That day, nearly every tool was checked out from the mobile rental center.