Tooele County residents bothered by their neighbor’s “junk yard” may soon see faster response time in clean-up action enforcement.
Hoping to more quickly solve noncompliance issues in unincorporated areas — such as too many broken down cars and piles of garbage on a piece of property — the Tooele County Commissioners recently adopted Title 5 of the Tooele County Code (also called an Administrative Code of Enforcement).
In the past the county engineering department employees have left an “Investigation report and correction notice” with property owners. After 30 days a follow-up inspection was made and if no action had been taken to solve the problem or the property owner had not made contact with the county, the situation would then be forwarded to the county attorney. The attorney would then file charges in court and if after a hearing was held and the violator found guilty a sentence would be imposed.
The wheels of the process turned slowly said County Attorney Doug Ahlstrom, who told the commissioners “There is a need for this” and that “this will take some pressure off of the courts.”
County Planner Nicole Cline said, “Rather than getting some poor judge who spent his life putting away car thieves, rapists and murderers, there will be a hearing officer” who knows the ins and outs of how these rules and regulations work. “I think it will be a big plus for everyone.”
Cline also noted that citizens who report violations will see things being done in a more timely fashion. She said one recent violation took 22 months to resolve.
Under the new program, once a violation has been discovered and documented, daily fees (amount yet to be set) will start to accrue. The violator will be given 10 days to respond to the notice of noncompliance, but if the notice goes unheeded for 30 days a hearing will be scheduled.
“We will give people every opportunity to resolve the noncompliance issues and we make the assumption that the property owner simply didn’t know they were in violation,” said Cline. “We don’t go in there with a bulldog attitude.”
However she added, “The bottom line is if you ignore it, [the situation] will get worse and then [the county] will bring it into compliance,” noting that the violator will be given an invoice for the work done.
Ahlstrom is in the process of drafting the remaining portions of the code, but a list of the differences between the old and new system were given to the commission.
The old system
• No administrative remedy — goes directly to court
• Increases workload of courts
• Most judges don’t understand zoning laws
• The case competes with murders, rapes, assaults, thefts, DUIs and other criminal matters
• Outside of court fines, the only other resolution is jail time
• The county does not recover the costs of enforcement
• It may take years to resolve the case
• The citizen ends up with a criminal record
• The costs of abatement are directly taken out of the general fund
The new program
• Mediation does not require representation by an attorney
• The hearings are held on an “as needed basis”
• Hearing officer is well versed in land use law
• Citizens don’t go through the system that necessarily results in a criminal record
• The county doesn’t have to use general fund monies to effect resolution
• Rapid response should reason compliance and resolution in a month or two
• Violator’s fines fund the program and needed abatements once the program is up and functional
• Doesn’t use incarceration as a form of punishment
• Doesn’t compete with other offenses or tie up court dockets
More information about Title 5 will be published in a future edition of the Tooele Transcript- Bulletin.