published: Wednesday, July 21, 2010
County code enforcement to get tougher
By ED BALDRIDGE
SEBRING -- County Commissioners voted at their meeting on Tuesday morning to expand the powers of county code enforcement officers to include writing more citations and added an administrative fee for anyone wishing to contest those citations.
In a revised document handed to commissioners minutes before just before the meeting, Zoning Supervisor Linda Conrad asked the board to allow enforcement officers to actually write citations and assign fees.
Exact changes to the code were not available at press time, so it is not clear exactly how many new items could be cited.
"This morning staff placed a revised ordinance in front of each one of you," Conrad said. "The proposed ordinance is to revise the schedule of violations to include additional violations to become part of the Highlands County Code of Ordinances.
"Basically, most of the code has not been changed. All this does is to allow enforcement officials to enforce code by writing citations," Conrad informed commissioners. "We are not changing or adding any additional codes or regulations in the code of ordinances, this is just to allow the enforcing official to write citations to enforce our code."
The fines an enforcement officer can levy now range from $50 to $500, and a new chart classifies the fines in individual classes.
Commission Chairman Don Bates showed some concern about the proposed changes, stating that the impact to the public could be significant, which would generate a lot of complaint calls to commissioners.
"Linda, you've made a number of changes throughout the chart. You added some, deleted some, and changed some of the classifications to the charts. Would you in general go over and point out some of those that are significant because this does impact the public," Bates asked.
Commissioner Barbara Stewart interjected that the changes to the code was just housekeeping, and not significant.
"Mr. Chairman, before we go on, I thought I heard Linda say we are not coming up with anything new. This is just for more consistency, is that correct?" Stewart directed at Conrad.
"That is correct," Conrad answered.
"OK, so the law's the law. And it's just that this chart did not agree with what our original ordinance stated?" Stewart asked.
"That's correct," Conrad again answered. "Basically, it corrects some of the items with just changes in the title. Now we have different class numbers from one to four. A first offense would now be $50, a second offense would now be $100, third offense would be $250 and a fourth offense would be $500," Conrad explained.
"If you have a particular item, basically these are in the new code ... I would be happy to answer any questions, unless you want to go through each item," Conrad said.
Bates asked why the changes concerning commercial aspects were now different.
Conrad explained that currently, code enforcement officers could not write citations or levy fines.
"I would suggest that this does make a difference as far as residents are concerned," Bates responded.
Stewart insisted that the new citations were not changes, but just clarification.
"These were always enforced, just enforced differently," Stewart stated.
Ramon Gavarette, Highlands County engineer, told commissioners that the changes would now allow the county to pressure local businesses to come into compliance with county enforcement.
"Section 12 of your code is basically part of your Land Development Regulations. For example, the landscaping at Home Depot has basically been allowed to go away. We have not been successful in bringing that site into compliance. We were not able to enforce them to do it. All we could do was send them letters and ask them to do it. Now we will be able to enforce them to do it," Gavarette said.
"Eventually, this could allow us to bring that site into compliance, and there are other sites that need to be brought into compliance."
After approving the revised ordinances, commissioners voted 5-0 to pass an additional administrative fee for those objecting to the citation.
Resolution 09-10 now sets a $50 non-refundable administrative fee to be paid up front for anyone who wishes to see the magistrate.
In other words, a taxpayer may now have to pay $50 to contest a $50 citation, even if the citation is a mistake.
According to Conrad's request, the goal is not to increase county revenue, but to discourage taxpayers from contesting code enforcement they think is in error.
"Staff receives, on average, three contesting requests each year," wrote county staff in the agenda request for the resolution. "The $50 fee is paid to allow staff to prepare all documentation to be presented at the Special Magistrate Public Hearing. The fiscal impact is minimal; however, if there is no fee to contest the citation, this may cause an increase in requests to contest without compensation of staff time."
Re: jvlivsx (by: Catalysts09 - 7/30/2010)
The money the local government gets for speeding tickets is practically nothing. So, the speed traps aren't there to help bail the county out of a hole or balance the budget. The "speed traps" as you call them are there to catch people who aren't obeying the speed limit. It isn't a "trap" as you say. You would be speeding regardless of the police being present or not. The only difference when they are there is you get caught. So, slow down or pay up. Then, look into what you are talking about before you bother commenting and expressing your lack of knowledge.
NEW REVENUE (by: jvlivsx - 7/24/2010)
County is broke. Its looking for creative ways to add revenue. Just like all those police officers setting up speed traps. They re just trying to balance the budget.
(by: Lord Howard Hurts - 7/23/2010)
Looks like the Federal Government doesn't have a monopoly on morons. Highlands County is in the running. How about making all new traffic signs retroactive to a time, at least a year, prior to the posting of the new sign (stop sign for example)? That way everyone in Highlands County would have to pay a fine for running through a stop sign that had been newly erected (maybe 1000 times in the past), and this would give the County a real increase in cash. And then how about including a non refundable fee of $100 should anyone want to dispute each citation ( just in case some judge would think it not a violation)?
Cars on blocks in the front yard are not artwork (by: Rusty Shackleford - 7/23/2010)
With all of the front yards that look like salvage yards, code enforcement needs to be out there writing tickets. We don't need our neighborhoods reminding us of Appalacia. Any efforts to clean up our county, making it more respectable, and dare I say appealing will be greatly appreciated.
code fees (by: sam the black man - 7/22/2010)
Iooks like we tea party people need to have a meeting on the code enforcements door steps......about these fees .next they will want a new tax too,our guns,our cloths,our shoes, and everything YOU work for....yo that sounds Obama land...
non refundable fee (by: BoB - 7/22/2010)
When we vote all of the incompentents (now there's a word) out in Nov, where do we find relacments, and where did the get their schooling an d training ?
Wake Up Sebring! (by: SebringBob - 7/22/2010)
This has to be as unconstitutional as it gets. A fee to argue with the local government? What's next, a fee to contest parking tickets? How about property taxes? Your rights as citizens continue to be drained by these so called public servants. This isn't about covering costs, it's about making them more powerful at your expense. Enough is enough.
Government Power Grab (by: Lucenut - 7/21/2010)
Repeal the code enforcement change. We need to de-fund "Code Enforcement" immediately.
hhmmm... (by: Concerned Citizen - 7/21/2010)
Though I agree with Catalysts09 about following the law in the first place, everyone makes mistakes so it is conceivable that you could get cited for an offense you did not commit. But now you have to pay $50 to contest a citation? "Yes Mr. Smith, if you pay a $50 fine, we will consider forgiving the $50 citation. We take cash, check, and most major credit cards."
well atleast they do there job (by: Moody Blue - 7/21/2010)
This dept under Ms Conrad does there job. You have April who has really matured in her position over the years. She has understanding for people who are really trying , but just dont have the means, But she also can tell who is just giving her a load of fill also. Now if you wanna see a totally dysfunctionalcode enformcent, go check out the building cod enforcement dude, he spends most of his days visiting his favorate friends around the County, and if you see someone doing something without a permit or licence, you have to first call in, then the office lady has to write a letter and give the person 30 days to reply. By this time the unlicenced guy is gone and the job is done. And we pay this guy to do this also.All it takes is for someone to phone the building dept and ask what there instructed to do by him on a complaint!
Non-Refundable Fee (by: tom walsh - 7/21/2010)
What a crock of hubris! If the enforcement officer writes up a code violation, he/she should have all documentation available for that citation. Mandating a fee, even $1.00 to compensate for staff time to assemble all the documentation tells me that if an enforcement officer has a beef with someone, he/she can write a citation calling for a $50.00 fine with no documentation. If the homeowner wants to contest it, a non-refundable fee of $50 has to be paid, and then the enforcement officer can say "oops, I made a misatke" and the charges will be dropped. Either way, the homeowner pays $50.00.
Re: David (by: Catalysts09 - 7/21/2010)
How about you follow the law and you will not have anything to worry about. It's not that hard of a concept.
Gestapo Code Enforcers (by: David James Rinaldo - 7/21/2010)
It appears that as citizens become more and more financially stressed, people who are supposed to work for the citizens become predators, inventing new ways to extract money out of citizens, for no other reason than to expand the bureaucracy instead of diminish it! What a fraud on the people! This new code enforcement nonsense is one of those offenses that must not be left to stand by the citizens.
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