THE ISSUE: County uses new powers to enforce codes.
OUR OPINION: A necessary part of governing.
For years, eyesores have accumulated throughout the county — abandoned, dilapidated buildings and/or debris and litter on properties, and little was done to effectively deal with either.
Sure, fines were assessed against the properties, but often these often went unpaid and the county had little capability to force the payment.
If the county went in to clean up litter and abate that nuisance, the only cost recovery method the county had was to place a lien against the property. These meant little to owners who might already have more debt against the building than the building was worth, or to owners without the resources or the will to abate the nuisance.
This was partly due to the fact that even if the county had a lien against the property, the county had no way to collect until the property was sold. And even then, mortgages and other debts had priority claims over those of the county, so the county might get little if any money from the sale.
Last year, the county addressed these issues by adopting two new ordinances to deal with dilapidated buildings and other eyesores.
One of these is to place the cost of cleaning up a code violation on the tax bill of the property. This puts the county’s bill in a priority status when property is sold, and since it is a tax, if it is not paid, the property is subject to being sold in a tax sale.
The other change is to give code and fire officials the authority to issue citations that can land the violator in court. If a judge orders the property cleaned up, and it is not, this can lead to time in jail for disobeying a court order.
Recently, the county has used both of these measures to enforce county code. In one case, a repeat violator sent to jail for 10 days and in another action a mobile home was torn down after repeated citations that had resulted in almost $8,000 in fines.
Further, the new regulations appear to be having a positive impact by both getting specific sites cleaned up and by encouraging other owners to clean up their properties.
While county staff says that 95 percent of people cited for code violations bring their property into compliance, it is the remaining 5 percent who frustrate neighbors and create blight in a community.
This is where the county needs the capability to further pressure those who stubbornly refuse to comply with codes even when specifically cited as being out of compliance. This is a necessary part of governing, so even if these tools are used sparingly, they need to be available for use when the situation dictates. They also should be applied evenly to rich and poor property owners alike and to both residential and commercial properties.
Consistent, fair application of county codes and penalties for violations combats blight in the county and is a benefit to all residents and businesses by making Citrus County a more desirable place to live and work.