Final vote possible on Marietta’s property code

Marietta City Council is poised to cast a final vote this week on proposed legislation setting fines and penalties for violations of the municipal property maintenance code. But after 16 months of discussions and public meetings some questions still remain about how the code will be enforced.

“Residents are supposed to keep snow cleared from the sidewalks in front of their homes. Can they be given a ticket for having snow on their sidewalk? That bothers me,” Councilman Mike McCauley, D-2nd Ward, said during a meeting of council’s planning, zoning, annexation and housing committee Tuesday.

According to the proposed code that was first introduced to council in January, an initial property maintenance violation can result in a $150 fine issued by a property code enforcement official. A second offense carries a $250 fine, and any subsequent violations may cost up to $500.

Last fall council adopted an ordinance establishing the latest version of the International Property Maintenance Code as a foundation for the city’s existing maintenance code. Council also approved the creation of a code enforcement officer position, although that post has not been filled at this time.

McCauley noted that, as written, the code enforcement official would not have to give any notice before requiring a property owner to pay the $150 fee for not shoveling snow off the sidewalk.

“The International Property Maintenance Code also says houses in the city must be plumb and square, but my home isn’t plumb, and I doubt that any houses in my entire block are plumb and square,” he said.

In addition, McCauley said he’s had phone calls from residents concerned that some disgruntled person could use the property maintenance code to seek revenge by filing a complaint against them.

Planning, zoning, annexation and housing committee chairman Roger Kalter, D-1st Ward, said it’s clear in the proposed code that the enforcement official cannot immediately require a fine on a first offense, but has to first issue a notice to the violator who then has 10 days to address the problem.

“Nowhere in the code does it say someone will just come to you and issue a $150 fine,” he said. “The officer will give a notice and the property owner will have 10 days to respond.”

Local resident John Eells said he had read the new IPMC on which the city code is based in its entirety and had some concerns, although he was glad discussions about the code are continuing.

“There are a couple of egregious parts,” he said. “What’s the maximum level for which property owners can be held accountable? This assumes someone is guilty until proven innocent. Also it says the code official can hire deputies. So you’re creating an additional police force.”

Councilman Michael Mullen, I-at large, said the proposed code should address those concerns.

“We need to make this code so it’s not so arbitrary and capricious,” he said.

Kalter said although the legislation may be adopted Thursday, council can still make changes to the code as needed.

“We can tweak this legislation when we need to,” he said. “It will be a work in progress. And I expect it will take at least a year for us to fine tune this legislation.”

City law director Paul Bertram III said the city’s original property maintenance code also needs some work. He noted the code addresses junk and abandoned vehicles on properties within the city, but it does not address boats, campers or trailers that are often parked on city property.

In other business Tuesday, city development director Andy Coleman requested permission to apply for a park recycling bin grant from the Dr. Pepper and Snapple companies.

“We’re applying for 26 containers at this time, but we could go back for more later,” he said, noting the containers would be placed along the River Trail and in city parks and boat docking areas.

Coleman said the containers would be provided at no cost to the city.

Members of council’s lands, buildings and parks committee agreed to provide a letter and resolution of support to apply for the grant.