Quay County Sun - Serving the High Plains

By Steve Hansen
Correspondent 

City to reconsider nuisance fines

 

February 22, 2017



Tucumcari city commissioners agreed among themselves Thursday to consider reducing fines in the city’s 11-month-old “nuisance ordinance” designed to improve the city’s appearance by addressing neglected properties and deteriorated abandoned buildings.

The nuisance ordinance is a key issue in a recall petition started by Tucumcari resident and business owner Keith Hayes, who has been fined $645 for violations of the nuisance ordinance on four properties he owns in the city that are strewn with unused semi-trucks, trailers, cement trucks and other heavy equipment, according to city officials.

Commissioners, who came to the informal agreement at a public work session, agreed to consider an amendment to the existing nuisance ordinance that would cut fines in half for property owners who do not make improvements after receiving citations for unkempt yards, junk cars stored outdoors or dangerous buildings on their property.

The current fine for the first offense is $100, the second offense is $200 and the third offense is $300. Each additional offense would be $500.

Mayor Pro Tem Robert Lumpkin, commissioner for District 4, tried to convince the commission to do away with fines in the ordinance and leave decisions on fines to Municipal Judge Joe Dominguez.

“The judge will make sure we clean up Tucumcari,” Lumpkin said, “but we have to leave the penalty phase up to the judge.”

City Manager Jared Langenegger said that before the ordinance was passed last year, the city court was setting the penalties, but properties were not being cleaned up.

“The judge was not issuing warnings,” Langenegger said. “He kept giving them 30 days, 30 days, 30 days. Years would go by.”

Dominguez was not immediately available for comment.

“My concern is that the commission enacted this ordinance to make a change,” Langenegger continued. “If we don’t define the penalties, what guarantee do we have that it won’t go back to the way it was?”

Lumpkin again assured the commissioners and Langenegger that the ordinance would be enforced.

“It will not be enforced as strongly as it was before,” Lumpkin said, adding that eliminating fines in the ordinance would make the ordinance “more palatable” to Tucumcari residents.

Langenegger said the process the ordinance requires gives people who receive notices plenty of opportunities to work with city officials to make arrangements if owners have difficulty bringing their property into compliance.

Justin Benevidez, a code enforcement officer who attended Thursday’s meeting, said officers will send a letter notifying a property owner that there is a problem, and if there is no response, another letter is sent. The third letter is notification that a penalty will be assessed.

Langenegger said that the first two letters invite the property owner to call city hall to discuss problems the owner may have in correcting the situation.

“We’ll work with the property owners to make arrangements if there is a problem,” he said.

Lumpkin said rather than paying fines, “it would be better if the owners could use that money to buy a lawn mower or pay someone to correct the problem.”

Langenegger replied that when the citation is issued, property owners have the option to go to court rather than pay the fine.

“At that point,” he said, “the judge can find them guilty or innocent, or give them more time.”

During the workshop, District 1 Commissioner Ralph Moya inquired into whether the city could find money to target burned-out buildings.

Lumpkin replied that the commission had sought funding for that purpose but could not find any.

Benevidez added that code enforcement officers could try to persuade burned-out property owners to at least board up buildings.

 
 

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