Proposal aimed at imposing fines on public nuisances

Pine Bluff Alderman George Stepps wants to put added bite in the city’s efforts to abate “public nuisances” on personal properties by imposing jail sentences of up to six months and fines of up to $1,000 on owners who fail to carry out city orders to eliminate “dilapidated, unsightly and dangerous” structures.

Stepps is sponsoring an ordinance slated to receive its first reading at Monday night’s city council meeting. Currently, the city recoups its expenses in abating declared nuisances by placing costs on tax books for collection as such. That action occurs only after owners fail to eradicate the problems within a specified time. There is no penalty procedure in place, however.

“Present means of encouraging property owners to abate nuisance properties have proven inadequate, and more direct means are needed to encourage compliance,” Stepps’ ordinance reads. It added that such conditions reduce “property values.” provide “havens for rodents, pests and vermin” and “hiding places for criminals,” and depress “the image of the community.”

Stepps’ measure would amend existing legislation by making it a misdemeanor offense for a property owner “to fail to remove, abate and prevent” declared nuisances within a period specified in a council “order, resolution or notice.” Conviction penalties for failure to abate such nuisances would be:

• A fine of $100 to $250 for an offense up to 10 days in duration;

• A fine of $250 to $500 for an offense of 11 to 20 days in duration;

• A fine of $500 to $1,000 for an offense of 21 to 30 days in duration; and

• A fine of $1,000 or incarceration in the Jefferson County Detention Center for not less than 30 days or more than six months, or both a fine and incarceration, for 31 or more days in duration.

Each day that the public nuisance is not abated after expiration of the established period would “constitute a discrete, separate offense for which a violator may be cited, convicted and punished,” the proposal states. It also notes that “nothing herein shall preclude or preempt the city from acting to remove, abate or prevent the public nuisance” and “collect the costs thereof as provided by law.”

Four ordinances are scheduled for third and final readings. They call for:

• Providing for the offense of unlawful dumping, increasing monitoring of sites used for unlawful dumping, and creating an account to be managed by the finance department for purchase of video equipment; and

• Amending provisions of the non-uniform employees handbook (three separate items).

Two ordinances are due for second readings and call for:

• Specifying that an occupant load notice be posted in a room or space used for an assembly; and

• Adopting a continuity of operations plan for city government in the event of a disaster.

A second ordinance slated for a first reading calls for amending current guidance regarding particulars of the Pine Bluff Commission on Children and Youth.

Also to be considered is a resolution declaring certain houses, buildings and/or other structures as nuisances and ordering their abatement.

The ordinance and resolutions and ways and means committees will meet at 5 p.m. The council meeting, to be held in the council chambers of the civic center, starts at 5:30 p.m.