Kiker: Enforcement Key
To Cleaning Up Mess
Letter to the Editor,
Many have sent pictures of run down houses from a property in their community asking: “Would I like to live next door to THAT?’ Well the easy answer is no, nor should anyone.
At our last meeting, the Lee County Board of County Commissioners chose to schedule a public hearing for the Vacant Property Registration Ordinance (VPR). Commissioner Frank Mann made the comment during the meeting that the registration would accomplish what we are trying to do.
When quizzed about what it is we need to accomplish in his district, he responded: Clean up the neighborhoods and make them safe. We agree, but how?
Since introduction of the VPR, much of the conversation is aimed directly at bank-owned properties that are a result of foreclosures.
My calculations from some recent numbers indicate that this only resolves 11 percent of the problem. There is sufficient concern regarding the legality of such a program. The Legislature allocated an extra $50 million to advance the backlog of foreclosure cases and the positive results of that have not been felt yet. Additionally, the number of violations has been reduced by half since last year, indicating that there has been some relief already.
There has been interest generated by third-party organizations that are claiming unreasonable expectations if this new ordinance is adopted.
Yes, they are intending to make money on this, potentially (including fees to Lee County) in the millions. That becomes evident when one receives a robo call asking for support at the BOCC hearing. Do we need another expensive level of government or third-party vendor to fix the problem? I don’t think so.
The real objectives are: clean up the mess, save the empty buildings, put families and businesses thriving in a healthy and safe community while maintaining a system that promotes compliance from now on. The best investment in our time and resources should be to re-examine our code that we enforce. If we could fix just one thing it should be tracking our repeat offenders. As an example, there is one property that was brought to my attention: an absentee owner that has owned a house for many years. They have been cited over 22 times for not mowing. The grass has grown in excess of 10 feet at times, yes 10 feet. Here is the really startling fact: they have never appeared in front of a magistrate and have never been held accountable.
Working our system, they can reduce the maintenance of their property to approximately twice a year without any repercussions, unless you live next door.
Lee County BOCC should instruct our new county manager to work with staff and the legal department to rewrite our ordinances so that code enforcement can do their job; simply put, go fix it! Repeat offenders are aware and should be held accountable. We should institute a public information campaign that Lee County is serious about compliance and enforcement!
After looking at what is really going on with this issue, registering owners for the sake of fixing a problem that took years to create without resolving enforcement issues, is like playing catch with helium balloons.
Larry Kiker is a Lee County Commissioner, representing District 3.