|Written by Mark Lineberger|
|Wednesday, 23 February 2011 00:00|
The Town of Camp Verde wants to add a few more teeth to the way it handles complaints and violations of the town’s zoning and property codes.
From trash and debris in yards to other violations, which constitute nuisances or hazards to public safety, the town is looking to see problems resolved more effectively.
At last week’s Feb. 16 meeting, council voted to rely more heavily on the criminal complaint process rather than using the current system, which operates more through the civil law process.
Under the current system, the town has to wait for a citizen complaint about a property before an investigation can begin. Then, after an inspection and a record of violations logged, the town would give a courtesy notice to the owners or tenants to take care of the situation, unless there was an immediate danger to public safety.
Often, that was all that was needed, said Mike Jenkins, Camp Verde’s acting community development director.
“Eighty-five percent take care of it themselves,” Jenkins said. It’s for the other 15 percent when a more extensive process is required.
If the property owner didn’t comply after the first notice, or at least work out a timeline with the town for improvement, an official 30-day notice was issued. If that didn’t solve the problem, the alleged violator would be taken through a process involving a hearing with the town and a civil citation might be issued.
If the court found a party liable for a civil fine, it would be up to the town to try and collect it, via collection agencies or other means, since the court can only actively collect fines issued by the court itself. Also, under the old system, evidence has to be presented by the town attorney. That’s an expensive proposition for Camp Verde, which contracts out its attorney by the hour.
The town now plans to possibly develop a new system where town staff can start enforcement actions if they become aware of a problem without first receiving a resident complaint.
The new rules would still have warnings and notices issued, but ideally, no violation would persist for more than 90 days before a criminal, or possibly civil, citation is issued.
According to a report from the town’s community development department, criminal citations would help save already limited staff time and allow for the issuance of arrest warrants if an offender fails to show up for a hearing or to pay fines.
Councilwoman Norma Garrison said she hopes the new system will be welcomed by residents who feel the current system doesn’t do enough.
“Our citizens have been really frustrated because they didn’t understand the process,” Garrison said. “Because it was slow, they thought nothing was being done.”
Garrison said while she shares the sentiment with many property owners that she doesn’t like people telling her what she can and can’t do with her own property, there comes a point where people don’t use common sense about how their property affects the surrounding neighborhood.
“Then we have no options left but to step forward and make the hard decisions,” Garrison said.
Garrison said she was confident the town’s enforcement team would treat everyone fairly and equally.
“No one wants to feel targeted,” Garrison said. “I think the community is more than ready for us to move forward.”
Councilwomen Robin Whatley and Carol German echoed those sentiments.
Whatley said a new policy would help “untie [the] hands” of the town staff when it comes to enforcement. German said the current process discourages many people from even trying to take action at all.
“It’s a major complaint: ‘Why should I even bother; nothing is ever done,’” German said. “The process is costing us money.”
Town Manager Russ Martin told council the new policy would be prepared in conjunction with the current review of new town codes the town expects to soon adopt, the first major revision since the codes were adopted when the town incorporated in the 1980s.
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