City mulls faster way to handle weeds, junk

Weeds tall enough to violate the city's nuisance ordinance will have grown and died before the case to eliminate them is resolved through the legal system.

Code Enforcement Officer Becky Otis issued three nuisance citations in April 2005 that have yet to make it through the court system.

But a proposal that City Attorney Kenneth Wohl presented to the Craig City Council on Tuesday could change that by creating a process through which violations could be taken care of in 10 days.

Weeds, junk and junk vehicles are nuisances under city code. If the city cites a property owner for violating that code, enforcement through the municipal court system could take months.

Eastern Slope communities instead are using an administrative hearing process so successfully that other communities are clamoring for information about how to implement their own, Wohl said.

In that process, once a code enforcement officer issues a citation, the property owner has 10 days to correct the violation or the city will do it and bill the property owner for the work.

If the property owner doesn't pay the bill, the city can place a lien against the property. The property owner has the option of arguing that the code enforcement officer exceeded his or her authority, but the owner must do so in five days. And that's the only element of the citation that can be argued.

"What we're doing is rewriting some of the stuff to make it a little easier for me to do my job and allow for a faster process through the court system," Otis said.

In three years, the city of Denver collected $18,000 from the fines issued by its municipal court for nuisance violations. In the 18 months since it implemented an administrative hearing process, it has collected $315,000 in fines and $900,000 in liens and gone from a 30 percent compliance rate to a 90 percent compliance rate, officials said.

In Craig, the change probably won't generate much revenue, but it would show the city is serious about correcting code violations, Wohl said,

"We're not in there to make a lot of money," Mayor Don Jones said. "We're here to clean up the community. I think it will be a great, great system."

When the police department and city attorney have noted the changes they'd like to see, the city will hold several community meetings to gather public input.

"We've come up with some good ideas," Otis said.

She said she'd like to bring the final changes before the council by April.

Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 210 or by e-mail at ccurrie@craigdailypress.com.

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