Amended ordinance gives Dagsboro enforcement ‘teeth’ in dealing with nuisance issues

DAGSBORO — Town code revision has given Dagsboro more enforcement teeth to deal with nuisance issues such as weeds, rubbish and abandoned vehicles, which town officials say have become a growing problem.

Town council by 4-0 vote Monday night approved a resolution and an ordinance amending the Property Maintenance chapter of town code. The ordinance immediately went into effect with council’s passage.

A public hearing on the proposed amendment drew no public comment.

The ordinance amends Chapter 210 to address nuisance issues and problems associated with weeds, trash, rubbish, vehicles, boats, watercrafts, jet skis and trailers on residential properties within the town of Dagsboro.

“The reason for a revised ordinance is due to the many property owners who continue to ignore letters in regard to cleaning up debris/trash, uncut grass, abandoned/unregistered vehicles, etc.,” said Dagsboro Town Administrator Cindi Brought. “We had to come up with a way to avoid taking these problems to court, which gets expensive when turning these problems over to the town solicitor.”

“I also think this puts a little more teeth into the enforcement part of it. I know in talking to Cindi, a lot of times after a while you can only send the same certified letter at $6 or $7 a pop to the same person, who ignores it and sends it back,” said Dagsboro Mayor Bryan Baull. “Now we have got a little more of something to say ‘Hey, you are in violation. You’re not going to ignore it anymore. Here is what’s going to happen.’”

“Once that happens a time or two maybe everybody else will kind of get, ‘They are serious about it,’” Mayor Baull said.

“We have struggled with getting certain homes to comply with notifications and paying fines and this new ordinance gives us the ability to handle these issues without the extra legal expenses,” said Ms. Brought.

Ms. Brought will serve as the appellate officer. Administrative Assistant Stacy West will handle code enforcement. The town sent Ms. West to DELJIS (Delaware Criminal Justice Information System) training which allows her to hand out civil fines for violations and check records through the state police, Ms. Brought said.

Before council’s vote, town councilman William Chandler III summarized the changes and additions to the code as proposed in the ordinance.

One amended section now spells out more specifically what constitutes a nuisance condition.

“Right now, it says weeds and grass higher than eight inches is a nuisance,” Mr. Chandler said, adding the amendment includes the likes of piles of tree limbs, logs, piles of dirt, and rubbish that would qualify as a nuisance.

For a property found to be in violation, there will be an initial courtesy notice with a five-day period to fix or remedy the identified violation. This courtesy notice will only be issued to first-time violators and will not be sent to a property owner with a code violation within last 12 months.

Repeat violators do not “get a courtesy notice, they a legal notice” along with the right of appeal, said Mr. Chandler.

A property owner deemed in violation with no remedy following a courtesy notice would face a civil violation punishable by $100 fine. If not paid within 30 days of notice of violation or after any appeal then the fine doubles to $200, and it’s added to the property tax bill and ultimately becomes lien on the property, Mr. Chandler said.

Code revisions also address:

• the appeal procedure;

• a derelict or in operable wrecked boat, car, truck, jet ski, trailer or any vehicle, boat or trailer or watercraft whose registration tag has experienced for at least 30 days or is missing entirely;

• timeframe and process for removal or towing of deemed derelict vehicle on public property by police;

• ability of the town to recover any expenses or costs it incurs in this process from the owner in a debt action or by lien upon real property where was removed.

Councilwoman Theresa Ulrich inquired about codes in other municipalities. “How many other towns have such extensive code enforcement procedures,” she said. “Is this something anybody else had?”

“It’s fairly common,” said Kyle Gulbronson, the town’s consultant from AECOM.

Ms. Ulrich also inquired if stacks of cut firewood for woodburning stoves would fall under the violation umbrella.

“That looks different,” said Mayor Baull. “If somebody is cutting wood or whatever, it looks a lot different than I just bulldozed a bunch of trees down and I just let it sit out in the yard.”

Mr. Chandler added that discretion comes into play by the code enforcement officer and the appellate officer.

“They are pretty much like the police. That is, they have tremendous discretion to exercise judgment,” said Mr. Chandler. “And there is the old saying, too, ‘One man’s junk is another man’s art.’”