Nuisance citations piling up quickly
HUNTINGTON -- Huntington code enforcement officers issued 156 on-the-spot citations during the first few weeks of enforcing a new set of laws intended to eliminate external sanitation violations such as trash, junk storage, graffiti, weeds and tall grass.
The first batch of those citations were on the docket Thursday morning in Huntington Municipal Court. Municipal Court Judge Scott Damron dismissed 19 of 35 code enforcement citations presented to him because the property owners are now in compliance. Fourteen citations resulted in $100 fines because property owners have failed to remedy the violations within the 10-day time period, while another two property owners pleaded no contest and paid fines of $100 each.
The number of citations issued by code enforcement officers John Baker and Joe Holderby and building inspector Scott Poston since July 1 has already surpassed the 99 citations issued by city code enforcement officers the entire last budget year.
The increase in activity is the next phase of a multi-pronged effort to clean up Huntington's neighborhoods. The city preceded the zero-tolerance policy launched July 1 with a comprehensive spring cleanup campaign that netted several thousand tons of trash.
City Council adopted an ordinance in March targeting household furniture on front porches, and Mayor Steve Williams was successful in receiving approval from the state Municipal Home Rule Board to issue on-the-spot citations for external sanitation and other common nuisance violations.
The city's two code enforcement officers also were transferred from the Inspections and Compliance Department at City Hall to a new code enforcement unit under the Huntington Police Department. Sgt. Darin Dempsey, who oversees the unit, labeled the first month a success. The goal of the program is to bring property owners into compliance, not issue fines, he said.
"It's becoming contagious," Dempsey said. "Once a person sees that their neighbor is getting a citation, they know they have to take care of their own property or they're next. In time, I think there will be a noticeable difference in what this community looks like."
Dempsey said his unit has received 20 to 30 tips per day from residents who relay addresses of rundown properties to the Police Department's anonymous tip line (304-696-4444), to police officers who attend neighborhood association meetings and to constituent services liaison Jim Johnson in the Mayor's Office.
Of the 120 citations that The Herald-Dispatch received from Municipal Court on Thursday and reviewed:
74 listed a home address for the property owner that was different from the property that was cited for code enforcement violations.
70 listed violations for overgrown vegetation, 43 included violations for trash or junk storage and 12 listed violations for "porch clutter" or indoor furniture on front porches. No violations were issued for graffiti.
An additional 34 property owners who have received citations are scheduled to appear in Municipal Court at 9 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 1. Each property owner is given a minimum of 10 days to address the violation. If it's resolved before the court date, the municipal judge will dismiss the citation.
Those who don't comply face fines of $100 for the first offense, $200 for the second offense, $300 for the third offense and $500 for fourth and subsequent offenses.
Follow H-D reporter Bryan Chambers on Facebook or Twitter @BryanChambersHD.
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