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Updated: 05/01/2014 04:06:04PM

Code enforcment ‘willing to work’ with violators

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Fort Meade residents were informed about city code enforcement during a community workshop last Thursday.

The workshop was held at the Fort Meade Community Center and facilitated by City Planner April Brown and Code Enforcement Officer Melanie McVay.

Instructional packets, which included a common code enforcement issues brochure, a code enforcement procedures flyer, and a Republic Services flyer on garbage collection, were given to attendees.

During the workshop, common code violations such as overgrown grass were showcased along with instructions on how to correct them.

The workshop began with an introduction by Brown, who emphasized how code enforcement ensures the safety and welfare of residents and maintains Fort Meade’s image, as the upkeep of yards leaves an impression, favorable or not, on outsiders.

“That is what they see,” Brown said. “Whenever they come through Fort Meade, whatever they see is the image that they leave with. So that is why Code Enforcement is so important.”

McVay explained the procedures of code enforcement, explaining what residents can expect if they receive a violation and how they can correct it.

Rather than merely being busybodies, McVay emphasized how code enforcement was there to serve residents.

“It is not about what we can’t do; it is about what we can do,” McVay said.

Code enforcement is more than willing to hear out residents on their issues, and will help seek venues for correcting their violations if they were unable to do so on their own, McVay explained.

“As long as we go in a forward motion to achieve compliance, we will also be there to work for you and with you,” she said.

Following the short presentation, the floor was open to questions on code enforcement. Such questions included whether or not houses were required to be painted, and how residents can obtain a copy of city code.

“I thought it went well, and hopefully, their friends will inform them about all of the contact with our office and we are willing to work with them every time,” McVay said.

Procedures of Code Enforcement

The workshop provided instruction on the various stages for code enforcement, instructing residents on how to go about correcting violations. They include:

• Initial Contact. When a property owner is in violation of city code, a door hanger with information detailing their violation is left on their door. The owner is given 10-14 days to correct the violation, and is encouraged to contact code enforcement to have their violations explained, questions answered, and time expanded if they need more to comply.

• Courtesy Notice. If time has lapsed without the violation being corrected, then a letter detailing the violations and how to correct them is sent via first-class mail. Another 10-14 days are given for the owner to correct the problem and contact city code enforcement if needed.

•Notice Of Violation. If the violation still has not been corrected, a formal notice detailing the violations is sent via certified, return receipt mail. This document requires the owner’s signature and to be returned by standard first class mail. Another 10-14 days are allotted for corrections.

• Notice of Hearing. If the violation still has not been corrected, a notice will be mailed via certified, return receipt mail scheduling a hearing before the Special Magistrate with the time, date, and location. The hearing will afford the resident time to discuss their case and determine if more time is required.

• Finding of the Facts. After the hearing, a letter will be sent via first class mail stating the outcome. If fines are levied, the time to have them paid will be listed, along with the outcome if the property is not brought into compliance.

• Posting of the Property. If the mail is unable to be accepted, or the property is a vacant lot, the Notice of Violation will be posted; if the property remains non-compliant upon re-inspection, the Notice of Hearing will be posted.

If code enforcement receives a call concerning a violation, they will only respond to it if they are certain the violation is outlined in city code.

One previous example was with chickens running at large within city limits. While the ordinance allowing fowl within city limits was being deliberated a few months ago, city code enforcement decided not to target residents with chicken coops for possible violations until the ordinance had been revised and passed.

“We go by what has been written, not what someone has said,” McVay said. “Unless there is a supporting document for something, we will not do it.”

Brown has been working to update the code, and while it has proven to be a slow work in progress, it has been changed more times than before she came into office.

“It is a slow process because you don’t want to make grayer areas than you already have, and there are issues we are going to correct soon because we are running into problems with them,” she said.

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