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Editorial: Tougher property enforcement much needed

May. 25, 2013 @ 11:30 PM

It is that beautiful time of year in the Tri-State.

The tree-lined streets are full and green, lawns are lush and well-kept yards are blooming.

Unfortunately, in too many neighborhoods and on too many main thoroughfares, that pleasant scene is broken by unattended and dilapidated properties. The spring rain has turned many of those into little jungles with two-foot grass, creeping vines and weeds everywhere.

Add a little junk and debris on the porch and in the yard, and these properties are not only unsightly, they become havens for insects and rodents.

For years, communities have talked about strategies to make property owners take care of their properties. But that is easier said than done, and a short drive through almost any part of Huntington shows that something more needs to be done.

City officials hope that "something" might be a new ordinance to issue on-the-spot citations for external sanitation violations and common nuisances. That would give city code personnel and other officers a tool similar to a traffic cop. They see the violation, and they hand you a ticket.

Currently, enforcement is hampered by timing and a lack of manpower. The city must give property owners a 10-day warning before issuing a citation, and there is only one officer assigned to that duty.

In addition to allowing "on-the-spot" citations, the city also hopes to add officers and to shift the code enforcement operation to the Police Department. That would allow police officers to hand out citations, as well, as part of a "blitz" or as they came across problems in their normal patrols.

If a property owner receives a citation and cleans thing up before the court date, the judge will dismiss the action, Mayor Steve Williams explained Thursday night. If the issue is not addressed, the judge will assess fines of $100 for the first offense, $200 for the second offense, $300 for the third offense and $500 for each subsequent violation within a 12-month period.

Charleston has used a similar approach in recent years and reports good results.

Without the Home Rule program, the change would have required action from the state legislature. But Huntington was able to present the new ordinance to the Home Rule Board in Clarksburg Friday and gain approval to move ahead.

Certainly, officers must consider each situation carefully. Residents could encounter heath problems that could prevent them from maintaining their property temporarily, and other arrangements might be considered. But many of the problem properties are simply unattended or unoccupied, and it is time the city required those owners to live up to their responsibilities.

That is another important step in building stronger neighborhoods and a healthier, more attractive city.

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