The secret to surviving a bad economy if you are a local government is to “ramp up” code enforcement.
Property values are down, which means that real estate tax revenues are down as well. Of course, most cities don’t re-appraise the property values, but any person who receives an unfair tax bill will have redress with the city and will probably win since it’s a known fact that property values have plummeted in the last few years.
So, when municipalities discover they have budget shortfalls as a result, they go into hyper mode about enforcing codes. Here are some examples that have been highlighted recently:
- In Ballwin, Missouri, a homeowner can be fined for having children’s toys in the yard.
- Even though the typical American lawn is wasted space at a time when we are concerned about the environment and having enough to eat, homeowners in Orlando can get fined and have their garden removed if it is in the front yard.
- People are typically into environmentalism until it means that they might see large planters and clothes lines from the street. The horror!
In Huntington, West Virginia, they are attempting to take it a step further by not only ramping up the enforcement of their current codes, but also making more things illegal. They are set to vote on a new ordinance. (Emphasis added)
The ordinance also prohibits building materials being stored outdoors unless they are for a permitted project on the property. Penalties include fines of up to $500, up to 30 days in jail or both.
The ordinance is just one part of Williams’ multi-pronged approach to improving the quality of life in Huntington by ramping up code enforcement. The council also will vote on a resolution Monday that authorizes Williams to apply for a federal Justice Assistance Grant in the amount of $28,000 to hire a compliance officer. The position is proposed to fall under the Police Department, not the Division of Inspections and Compliance.
Naturally, this is phrased as a “quality of life” measure rather than a revenue generating measure. Safety! Safety!
If you click the link and continue to read, you will also find out that the city is attemping to get a federal grant in order to pay the salary of a new code enforcement officer that would be needed. That’s practically akin to acknowledging that the city doesn’t have enough money to pay their own officer. Yet, they want people to believe that these new measures are about quality of life and safety.
Additionally, the city of Huntington is looking into having the ability to issue on the spot citations, rather than giving a warning period for compliance.
Williams also has indicated that he will seek the ability to issue on-the-spot citations through the Municipal Home Rule Pilot Program, Williams said. Property owners now have a 10-day warning period to clean up their messes before they receive a citation. Charleston was granted the authority to issue on-the-spot citations as part of its home rule plan and it has worked well, Williams said.
Now is probably a good time to go ahead and read your city’s municipal codes. If something like this hasn’t begun to happen in your town, it’s probably only a matter of time. You never know when they’ll start enforcing these things, and you don’t want to have to rely on the ignorance claim.
So, what is the secret to surviving this bad economy? Have a steady stream of revenue at your fingertips in the form of taxes. When that begins to fail, make sure someone gets punished and literally has to pay.