From now on Merced residents who repeatedly violate city codes may be in store for a shock.
Long-standing code violations, like a pile of trash in the yard or a dilapidated house, could bring hefty fines. If that fails, it could end in arrest for the worst offenders, according to a series of new ordinances adopted by the city of Merced on Tuesday night.
The Merced City Council unanimously adopted the new ordinances and resolutions to give code enforcement officers teeth when it comes to enforcing the city's codes.
"The idea is that this gives us a quicker ability to react to the problem," said Mike Conway, the city's spokesman. "Every now and then we've had a person who's blown off the code enforcement." These new stronger ordinances will speed up the process and make repeat offenders pay for the consequences of their actions, he added.
The new ordinances not only include new powers for code enforcement officers but also take the process out of the courts where it often lingered.
The new ordinances will increase the penalties for failing to be up to code.
These new rules will allow code enforcement to issue administrative citations, or fines, if a code issue is not resolved after a warning. The fines will be $100 for the first violation, $200 for a second violation within 12 months and $500 for the third violation in that same period.
For habitual violators, the city could use administrative penalties. In such cases the city now has the ability to fine people $2,500 a day until the issue is resolved.
The new codes also allow for appeals on these matters if a violator disagrees with the city. After a violator goes through an appeal process, they still have the option of court, said Conway.
Before the new codes were passed, the main tools the city used to bring people in line included criminal and civil enforcement through the courts, as well as nuisance abatement. But, according to staff reports, these tools have been ineffective. The courts are already overloaded and the process can take a long time and cost the city money. Prosecution of municipal code violators can be difficult and the majority of any fines collected go to the court instead of the city, said Jeanne Schechter, chief deputy city attorney.
Reporter Jonah Owen Lamb can be reached at (209) 385-2484 or firstname.lastname@example.org.