Longboat Key town codes can be stringent: No construction work after 5 p.m., no lights shining on the beach during turtle season, no renting a home for less than 30 days.
The town’s only means of enforcing those codes, with any sort of immediacy, has been to issue a courtesy notice informing an individual how he ran afoul of town rules and what he needs to do to fix it.
But officials don’t think that is enough, so they proposed the Town Commission give town code enforcement officers the authority to issue citations with monetary fines.
Although the town has dozens of codes it could enforce this way, Town Manager Tom Harmer decided it would be better to start a program like this by enforcing three contentious issues on the island: vacation rental rules, turtle protection measures and appropriate construction codes.
“This is a pilot testing, if you will, for a citation process with three priority items,” said Chris Elbon, code enforcement officer.
The process for issuing a monetary fine takes some time. First, a courtesy notice is issued, informing an offender of what rule was broken and how to come into compliance. That’s followed by a written warning, then a notice to appear before the town’s Code Enforcement Board.
Only there can a fine be considered or levied.
The new system, however, would give a code enforcement officer the authority to issue a “point-in-time” violation as a civil citation for breaking local rules.
The fee schedule, as proposed by town staff, goes like this: $100 for a first offense, $250 for a second offense and $500 for third and subsequent offenses.
These fines may be appealed, but the burden of proof is then on the individual accused of violating town codes.
Think of it like a traffic ticket: A police officer may cite an individual for driving over the speed limit — and if the person wants to contest that, he must bring it before a court.
But instead of the court, that appeal could be adjudicated in one of two ways: a hearing before the Code Enforcement Board or an argument before a special magistrate.
The Code Enforcement Board is a group of seven volunteers from around the island charged with determining how the town’s codes should be enforced.
A special magistrate replaces the Code Enforcement Board. Instead of a group, an individual trained in local law decides.
Of the two options available, town commissioners favored a special magistrate at their April 23 meeting on the subject. A special magistrate could cost the town anywhere between $200 and $300 per hour for hearing appeals on code violations, said Town Attorney Maggie Mooney-Portale.