Council talks new ordinance for repeat nuisance offenders

Published 10:48 am Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Austin City Council discussed a rough draft of a plan for a new ordinance to implement citations rather than sending letters about obnoxious weeds, snow removal or junk removal.

Planning and Zoning Administrator Holly Wallace said the plan would be another tool in the city’s toolbox for unpaid citations or continuing violations such as junk complaints, violating a fire or building code.

The council previously discussed the issue in January.

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“This was kind of for repeat offenders for things like long grass, junk removal, but also some things in the building code [and] fire code,” Wallace said. “That wouldn’t necessarily merit a full-fledged criminal prosecution.”

She expects about a handful of citations a month, which would be processed similar to other fines and fees.

Wallace said the old system was not as effective anymore.

“It’s a lot of additional time and effort that’s going nowhere,” she said.

Several ordinances from other cities were reviewed and the current draft of Austin’s plan is modeled after West St. Paul’s version.

Typically it states the purpose, describes the ordinance as an alternate method of enforcement, identifies parties given authority to issue compliance letters and administrative citations, offers time extensions, what to do for repeat offenders such as no longer sending compliance letters or increased fines.



It also discusses exceptions to issuing a compliance letter and when and how the citation is issued, what action should be taken if the payment remains unpaid, contesting a citation, holding a hearing and a schedule of administrative penalties or schedule of fines.

Council member Judy Enright said she liked the part about addressing subsequent offenses and streamlining the process to go faster.

“We have some repeaters and this was within 24 months,” Enright said. “We don’t have to go through that letter, wait 10, 15, 40 days. We need consequences … we need consistency.”

The council asked about the fines people would have to pay. Wallace said there’s a $75 to contest the citation, which requires a hearing. She suggested about $50 to $100 for the fines and with subsequent offenses, the fines would go up 25 percent the second time, 50 percent the third time and so on.

If the fine was not paid, it could be assessed on their taxes. City Clerk Ann Kasel said most people with junk violations do not pay their fines and a third of people with snow and obnoxious weeds pay their fines.

Director of Administrative Services Tom Dankert expressed his concern about how the burden of issuing citations and collecting fees between departments would be shared.

“I need council to understand the clerk’s office isn’t staffed to do collections,” he said.

The citation ordinance could also be used for the Parks and Rec and Fire Departments. Austin Fire Chief Jim McCoy said they could use the ordinance in commercial inspections, but for them each day is a new violation, so it would be easy for someone to rack up $1,000 a month. Wallace said there was a limit in the draft.

Parks and Rec Director Kim Underwood said she supported the idea.

Enright made a motion to move forward with the project and further discuss who would be issuing the fee and what the cost might be.