Feb. 21 hearing brings more code enforcement wins

LaBELLE — The Hendry County Board received another encouraging report on Tuesday, Feb. 26, regarding the success of their code enforcement efforts against blighted areas.

Planning & Community Development Director Margaret Emblidge and Code Enforcement Supervisor Wanda Rota-Reina presented commissioners with a summary of the outcomes of cases brought before Hendry County Judge Darrell R. Hill, of the 20th Judicial Circuit.

There were originally 22 cases to be heard Feb. 21, regarding 15 properties, in county court, according to the staff report. Of those 22, eight came into compliance after receiving a citation and/or after receiving the notice to appear subpoena. Of those eight, there still were four citations on two propertiesthat were required to be paid, at $150 each, so $600 total was collected.

In a preliminary look at the report, Commissioner Michael Swindle said, “It looks like another resounding success.”
Said Ms. Emblidge: “You’re correct in your comment, Commissioner Swindle, that it was successful, and I really felt comfortable. I attended the court and had to be part of the discussion on one case, but I think that not only did staff do a great job in preparing for the court, they also were very successful with presenting to the judge the particulars of each case. We’re doing well with the current judge, but I’m not saying that we can’t further the discussion on the special magistrate if that’s what you want.”

Mr. Swindle asked Commissioner Karson Turner what he thought. He answered, “I think that the proof will still be in, how is the property actually changing, when it’s actually brought into compliance.” He said it might take a little time to view the outcomes and also that he wanted to be cognizant of the actual costs to the county of this process, and also, “How is the conversation moving toward a daily fining process?”

Ms. Eblidge said they were looking into that, and “it would have to go back to the judge the second time to be able to enforce the daily fines after the 30-day window expired and they were not compliant.” The county would have to request it, and the judge would have to order it.

Fourteen cases on nine properties were presented to Judge Hill. The cases consisted of general code enforcement violations (miscellaneous debris, inoperable vehicles, exterior mold, skirting and a Planned Unit Development, or PUD, zoning violation, slaughterhouse use not permitted in the zoning district and construction without a permit). All the defendants were found guilty and required to pay the $250 uncontested citation, and three uncontested $100 citations were to be issued to the county in addition to the $150 court fees, with the exception of five cases where the court fees were waived due to financial hardships, but not the citations. Three of the nine defendants or their representatives appeared. The total dollar amount to be collected on these cases will be $2,300 that will be paid to the county and not the courts.

Some of the defendants were given a maximum of either 14 days or 30 days to bring the property into compliance and to pay the code enforcement citation, with the exception of the PUD code case. The property owner in the PUD case is required to apply for a Planned Unit Development amendment and file a site development plan within 60 days from the court date. In addition, the defendant has six months from the court date to obtain county board approval of those two items. If the property owner fails to comply with the deadline, then the court order is to cease all operations until they come into compliance.

The court fees are handled differently, and in some cases they can be placed on a payment plan and or given up to 90 days to pay. The courts will be mailing out the judgments to the property owners who did not appear.

In the event a defendant fails to comply with bringing the property into compliance and/or fails to pay the citation, the defendant will return to court after the allotted time granted. In that case, the code staff will request daily fines to run until full compliance.

The next court hearing is scheduled for March 21 at 1:30 p.m. Code staff is still working through their cases to determine how many will be brought before Judge Hill.

Chris Felker can be reached at cfelker@newszap.com.

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