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Getting tough on code violators
Forget warnings. Certain infractions soon could get violators a ticket.
By JANET ZINK, Times Staff Writer
Published January 16, 2008
TAMPA - Cut down a protected tree, get a ticket. Dump garbage on an empty lot, get a ticket.
Those are the terms of a new code enforcement policy proposed by Mayor Pam Iorio.
The new rules would allow city workers to issue an immediate citation, like a parking ticket, when they see someone violating certain city codes.
Code enforcement director Curtis Lane said the tickets would target infractions that are "considered irreversible," like cutting down a tree or dumping garbage.
Repeat offenders, such as homeowners who more than once break rules regarding yard overgrowth, would also get tickets.
Fines would range from $75 to $500 based on the type of violation and the number of previous infractions.
Santiago Corrada, the city's neighborhood services administrator, said the goal is to get the policy in place in about three months, and he hopes to take a proposed ordinance to the City Council on Feb. 7.
"This is in response to what we've heard from neighborhoods for the last five years," he said.
The current system of notices and code enforcement board hearings takes too long, and allows people to avoid paying fines by fixing the violation and then letting it recur, he said.
Details still need to be ironed out, Corrada said, but he called the tickets another tool for cleaning up the city.
Iorio made code enforcement a top priority after her election in 2003. She turned what had been a division into its own department and in 2005 pledged to foreclose on properties owned by severe offenders.
Council members have complained for years that city code enforcement takes too long and is ineffective. Over the past decade, the city has accumulated tens of millions of dollars in unpaid code violation fines.
City Council members contacted Tuesday said they support the instant citation idea.
"People have been asking for that for, like, 20 years," said council member Linda Saul-Sena.
Council member Joseph Caetano, who represents North Tampa, said the city's current process is too cumbersome, and he's tired of driving around in his New Tampa neighborhood and seeing unpunished code violations.
"We're doing too much paperwork and there's not enough response," he said. "Give them a ticket."
And if violators don't pay it, he said, "they can go and arrest them and make them post bail."