Focus on code enforcement begins to sharpen

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A series of workshops throughout the county on code enforcement could lead to an unprecedented overhaul of how the county handles the breaking of its rules.

Facilitated by the Apalachee Regional Planning Council, the workshops opened Oct. 30 in Eastpoint, with a second one Nov. 3 on St. George Island.

A workshop for unincorporated Carrabelle was slated for Wednesday, Nov. 10, and for Lanark Village on Tuesday evening, Nov. 16 at Chillas Hall. The workshops wrap up Wednesday, Dec. 1 at the county commission meeting room, for residents of unincorporated Apalachicola.

About 20 people from Eastpoint were at the first workshop, and nearly 50 people, including Commissioner Bert Boldt, attended the workshop last week on the island, facilitated by Adriana Silva with the ARPC.

Silva told the audience both workshops received near-unanimous support for the implementation of a code enforcement system.

As it stands now, there is no county code enforcement person whose primary job it is to address and resolve complaints. Instead, these possible violations generally are fielded by County Coordinator Michael Moron first, and if they involve a clear case involving possible law-breaking, are directed to County Attorney Michael Shuler. In addition to letters going out in reference to what county officials see as a violation of their ordinances, Shuler may resort to going to court if the county commission so directs him to do.

At the island workshop, attendees shared concerns about what is likely to be a common refrain throughout the county, such as getting rid of abandoned and derelict sand fencing, pools and property that collect mosquitoes, houses and buildings that pose a hazard, and open fires to burn yard debris.

The presence of RVs and campers on private lots with no building, sewage disposal or electricity was another concern, as was dumping along roadsides of furniture, household items and trash in general.

Attendees at the island workshop also voiced concern about automotive junk and unusable cars in yards, individuals renting out their homes and not paying the required lodging taxes, and people who remodel and/or expand their homes' occupancy levels without increasing the capacity of their septic systems.

Particular to the island is enforcement of the safe turtle lighting ordinance, which would address unnecessary bright house lights.

Last week, at the Carrabelle city commission, a heated debate regarding the creation of a new position within the police department hinted at the possible challenges to come with the creation of countywide code enforcement.

Police Chief Kevin Shuman proposed a law enforcement officer position that would have code enforcement responsibilities, pertaining to policing the boat ramp, parking lots and building sites, as a portion of the job.

The proposals was defeated 3-2, with support only from Mayor Brenda La Paz and Commissioner Cal Allen.

Some confusion was particular to the proposal, in that it may have been assumed the position was a new hire, rather than intended to be filled in-house with the transfer of a full-time police officer into a new job focused on community policing and code enforcement.

Still, the issue of code enforcement was talked about at length, with La Paz emerging as a strong proponent.

“It’s everything, it’s parking violations, a broken sidewalk, a streetlight out, to get these things taken care of,” she said. “Making sure parks are taken care of, that no one is loitering, it just goes on and on. It’s just something that’s needed, to try to get in motion.”

Over the past five years, La Paz has pushed for funding for a part-time code enforcement position, but it has so far not been adopted.

“There’s some apprehension in the public and there’s really no need to have apprehension,” she said. “I was unable to get the commission to move forward because they were concerned of retaliation. What good are we if we’re going to kowtow to retaliation?”

Even despite the funding concerns, there appeared to be unanswered questions regarding what powers a code enforcer would have, and how proactive they would be, regarding such things as use of the boat ramp or making sure people don’t discard fish waste improperly.

“I just feel like Carrabelle is small and we’re not ready to do that,” said Commissioner Tony Millender. “I’m not totally against code enforcement; we have code enforcement now. It’s done by complaint and there’s code enforcement being handled by the current staff.”

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