A proposed ordinance providing a penalty for failure to abate a property declared by the city as a public nuisance was approved in a split vote Monday night after being amended by the Pine Bluff City Council.
The measure — sponsored by Alderman Charles Boyd — originally would have established penalties of fines from $100 to $1,000 and incarceration in the Jefferson County Detention Center from 30 days to six months. Boyd, chairman of the council’s development and planning committee, suggested the guidance as a means of giving the city’s inspection and zoning department “more bite” in dealing with property owners who ignore nuisance citations.
Alderman Steven Mays stated the first objection to the legislation’s stated penalties. Alderman George Stepps said he shared Mays’ concern that the proposal wasn’t “community friendly” because it might pose hardships against financially challenged individuals who possibly couldn’t afford demolishing and/or clearing nuisance sites.
Inspection and Zoning Director Robert Tucker said the penalty language was offered as a guide and that violators’ punishments would be decided by a municipal judge. Chief Housing Inspector Mitzi Ruth said the department needed strong enforcement capabilities to contest non-responsive owners of multiple nuisance sites. Boyd said he was seeking to utilize the proposed legislation against “loopholes” employed by those who have disregarded abatement orders.
Alderman Bill Brumett asked Ruth if the ordinance was “like the last straw” against violators.
“Yes,” she replied.
Alderwoman Thelma Walker said she would support the legislation if the penalty language was altered to read simply that offenders could be fined up to $1,000. A Boyd motion to amend the proposal accordingly was unanimously endorsed, with Alderman Lloyd Holcomb Jr. absent because of illness.
But the vote on the modified measure received a nay from Alderman Glen Brown, who had expressed fears that “poor grandmothers and grandfathers” might be unjustly injured by such fines. Brown said he would like to see the city offer assistance on demolishing old homes and other structures and then clearing the debris, the expense of which can rise to as much as several thousand dollars.
Ruth said some possibilities on acquiring aid to help in reducing such costs are being considered.
In other business, a Mays-sponsored ordinance calling for revamping a city commission on children and youth was defeated in a 4-3 decision with no discussion. Mays had pushed the legislation, saying re-establishing the panel would provide a voice to youth in municipal matters.
Boyd, Brown, Stepps and Walker opposed the notion, which drew nods from Brumett, Mays and Alderman Wayne Easterly.
An effort to bring a proposed ordinance grandfathering current department heads from suggested, new residency requirements to a third and final vote failed after the measure received a second reading. A 75-percent approval was needed on the progression, which was nixed when Brumett, Easterly and Mays voted against it. Boyd, Brown, Stepps and Walker favored the advance.