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A Times Editorial

Neighbor offers model for code enforcement


© St. Petersburg Times
published March 24, 2002

It makes so much sense one wonders why the idea isn't already in place.

Wait: It is, just not in Citrus County. And, thanks to the continued interest of Commissioner Gary Bartell, that may change soon.

At Bartell's urging, the commission recently instructed County Attorney Robert Battista to research the legal ramifications of giving Code Enforcement officers the authority to issue citations for everything from junky yards to illegal signs to overgrown lawns.

Doing so would hasten the county's ability to deal with scofflaws and repeat offenders and eliminate the need for the administratively cumbersome Code Enforcement Board.

A model of the program that would work well here can be found in neighboring Hernando County, which did away with its Code Enforcement Board a decade ago. When Hernando gave its code enforcement officers the power to write tickets, compliance increased dramatically, to about 90 percent.

Inspectors usually issue warnings for a first offense and give the offenders 30 days to comply with county code. If they do not, they are issued civil citations that increase in monetary value from $100 up to $500 and a summons to appear in county court. Eventually, a lien could be placed against the property.

Frank McDowell, the code enforcement director in Hernando County, says the key to effective enforcement is training inspectors to be sensible when writing citations. That prevents overloading the court docket and tying up the time of inspectors, who still must prove their case to the judge.

Code enforcement officers there also have the authority to write tickets to those who violate lawn watering rules. In Citrus County, that would free sheriff's deputies from the responsibility, which, understandably, they rarely enforce.

Fines are a pragmatic deterrent to those who violate county codes, and the money collected from violators, after enforcement expenses are met, can be reinvested to educate the public about the rules.

The other commissioners should join Bartell in seeing this idea through, even if it means adding an inspector in the code enforcement office. From the perspective of the majority of responsible home and business owners who adhere to the codes, it's a wise investment to protect the value of their property and their quality of life.

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