The issue: Unresolved code compliance cases

Our Opinion: More enforcement muscle needed

Every community has properties with unsafe buildings, junkyard conditions, overgrown vegetation or derelict vehicles. Nonetheless, the vacant house with overgrown weeds on South Washington Street in Beverly Hills that was recently in the public spotlight is a reminder that one eyesore property is one too many.

It is one too many because it not only robs neighbors of their emotional and financial tranquility, but, if ignored or ineffectively managed by local government, can spread like a cancer ultimately decreasing property values, increasing crime, and lowering the quality of life throughout the community.

Until a few years ago, Citrus County had a poor track record of effectively managing code compliance cases.

Frustrated with the county being a perennial loser in the battle against eyesore properties, the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC), in December 2017, vowed to put more muscle behind its code enforcement efforts.

Taking aim at the five percent of property owners who do not voluntarily comply with community standards, the BOCC adopted two ordinances in 2018 that gave code enforcement a much needed one-two punch.

The first punch allows county officials to issue a citation to violators who have not complied within 60 days or immediately if the violation is a threat to public safety or cannot be rectified, such as clear cutting a lot. Violators who fail to comply face the prospect of appearing before a judge and being either fined or jailed for contempt of court.

The second punch enables the county’s costs for rectifying a code violation to be placed on the property owner’s tax bill. If the bill goes unpaid for three straight years, the property may be sold for taxes with the new owner paying the county’s costs.

While this one-two punch led by Commissioner Brian Coleman has added muscle to the county’s code enforcement efforts, the South Washington Street case and the county’s other 548 unresolved complaints that date back to 2015 cry out for resolution.

As such, the county is urged to further strengthen its code enforcement by exploring additional legal remedies, diligently pursuing recalcitrant property owners, educating the community about code requirements, and giving unresolved cases more BOCC visibility to counter out of sight, out of mind apathy.

Given that one eyesore neighborhood property is the first step toward community blight, timely and effective code compliance is essential to keeping our community safe, valued, and a place all are proud to call home.