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Zoning inspector may get power to issue fines

April 14, 2004|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Violators of Washington County's zoning ordinance could face fines of up to $500 and orders to clean up their properties under a proposal presented to the County Commissioners Tuesday.

Director of Permits and Inspection Bill Sprague proposed that the county's zoning inspector be given the authority to issue fines.

The County Commissioners would have to amend the county's zoning ordinance in order for the increased enforcement to take place.

The commissioners created the zoning inspector position two weeks ago, but it has not been filled.

The county's building inspectors, when available, have enforced zoning ordinance violations.

The zoning inspector would work full time responding to concerns about the accumulation of trash on properties, weeds, possible unsafe structures and other zoning concerns.

Fines handed out by the zoning inspector could double if not paid within a certain time period, under the proposal.

The person being fined could request a trial, the proposal states.

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Sprague and County Attorney Richard Douglas said issuing citations would make the enforcement process more efficient.

Currently, violators receive notices from the county, and if they don't respond, they may be taken to court and a judge may impose fines, Sprague said.

That process can take several months to more than a year, and by the time the issue is settled, the fine handed out by the judge doesn't cover the county's cost to prosecute the case, he said.

The current policy is "so cumbersome that you don't want to deal with it," Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said.

Washington County received an average of 571 requests per year to investigate possible zoning violations between 1999 and 2003.

Of that amount, requests to check out possible junk violations averaged 127 per year, requests for possible weed violations averaged 85 per year and requests for possible building violations averaged 157 per year, according to information provided by the county.

County officials said they need to discuss a time frame violators would have to clean up their properties and what the fines would be for the various violations.

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