Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Trash or Consequences

Let's get this straight from the start. There are some people that are just inconsiderate slobs. They will use their property, whether their yards or the back side of their business, as a private junk pile or dump. They will store broken furniture, old tires, etc. and create a hazard for their neighbors. Hopefully you don't live next door to one of them.

The city has an interest in making sure these people clean up their messes. That is what code enforcement is for. One of the problems has been that it is less expensive to game the system than to clean up the mess or find proper storage. There are people that have multiple properties that will move the mess from one property to another after they get a citation. The problem just keeps moving and is not solved. Until recently, there was little code enforcement could do.

At the last city council meeting a proposed ordinance was introduced that limited the number of warning citations that would be issued before a graduated series of fines could be assessed. First citation would be $200, next $500, etc.. These citations and fines would be per person, not property. For example, if a person was cited for junk behind his store, and was later cited for the junk at his house, that would be 2 citations for the person. The goal is to raise the cost and agravation to the point where it is cheaper to do the right thing. A noble goal and it will probably solve the problem.

There is a small little fly in the ointment here. This approach completely ties the hands of a judge in dealing with unusual circumstances. There are possible circumstances where this level of fine might not be appropriate. This is also a problem that can be solved. All it takes is adding language to the effect that "these fines will be assessed unless there is evidence of significant extenuating or mitigating circumstances." This is probably not how the language would be in the end as I am not a lawyer. I have, however, discussed this informally with a couple lawyers and they assure me that such language can be added to the ordinance. We need to allow the judge to consider all the facts and if appropriate levy a different fine. That is how it should be. Mandatory minimums are not good no matter what the type of trash you are dealing with.

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