THE ISSUE: County commission looking at code enforcement MSBU.

OUR OPINION: A good step that responds to what the community wants.

One of the persistent issues residents complain about is code enforcement, with reports of dilapidated buildings, overgrown lots, illegal dumping, trash piled in yards and other irritants, as regularly commented on in Sound Off.

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The issue has been discussed at county commission meetings, and the county has begun a census of abandoned buildings, but every time code enforcement is discussed, there is one underlying theme: the county does not have the tools for effective code enforcement.

One of the reasons is that if the county wants to clean up or take down a dilapidated building the only mechanism for recovering that cost is filing a lien against the property. In theory, this means the county will get its costs back when the property is sold.

But the reality is that many eyesores already have mortgages or other liens against them, so when the property is sold the county is back in the line of those being paid. The practical result is that the proceeds of the sale are not enough to pay all the liens, so the county gets little or nothing.

In a recent meeting with the Chronicle editorial board, County Commission Chairman Ron Kitchen and County Administrator Randy Oliver outlined plans for beefing up code enforcement.

Kitchen said the board is planning to hire a consulting company to write an ordinance that allows the county to place the cost of code enforcement on the property tax bill for that location. The proposed mechanism would be to create a code enforcement Municipal Services Benefit Unit (MSBU).

With the cost of bringing property into compliance with local codes going on the tax bill, it puts the county in a superior position when the property is sold, because taxes take priority in settling debt against the property.

Ultimately, having the code compliance cost as a tax means that if the property owner refused to pay the tax, the county could force the property to be sold to collect the due taxes.

Since this is a tool for enforcing code compliance, it would not affect people whose properties are in compliance with codes. Only those who violate code and refuse to come into compliance would be subject to paying the tax.

Having this mechanism would give the county an additional and very powerful tool to command code compliance.

This seems like a good step for the county to take in responding to what the community wants, and for helping make Citrus County a beautiful and desirable place to live and work.