Proposed amendment would give city of Dalton more power to clean up property

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A proposed amendment to the city of Dalton's nuisance law would give "the chief of police or his designee -- in this case, code enforcement officers -- the power to give written notice to the occupants of a property which is a public nuisance," City Administrator Jason Parker said.

Dalton code enforcement officers could have expanded powers to clean up unsightly property under an amendment being considered by the City Council.

Council members on Monday held the first reading of an amendment to the city's nuisance law.

City Administrator Jason Parker said the amendment would give "the chief of police or his designee — in this case, code enforcement officers — the power to give written notice to the occupants of a property which is a public nuisance."

Parker said currently if officers can't personally serve an individual with a notice there is no way to move forward on requiring the person to clean up a property.

"This provides officers the alternative to serve notice by U.S. mail at the address maintained by the (Whitfield County) tax commissioner," he said.

If the property owner does not correct the nuisance the amendment "gives the chief of police the authority to take necessary and reasonable actions to abate the nuisance," Parker said.

Dalton Communications Director Bruce Frazier said the ordinance does not explicitly provide a timetable for how long a property owner has until the matter goes to court.

"However, the current procedures for the Police Department’s Code Enforcement Unit include contacting the property owner to let them know about code violations, and for problems that are large scale enough to require court involvement, you’re looking at up to 60 days," Frazier said. "That’s typically what the code enforcement unit gives before involving courts or citations."

The change would allow the city to take action on lesser issues that can still affect the quality of life in a neighborhood, such as "tall grass, vehicles, junk that has piled up on a property."

"This would give city forces the ability, under reasonable circumstances, to enter that property, abate the nuisance and charge that cost back to the owner of record," Parker said.

Frazier said the ordinance makes the police chief responsible for determining what is reasonable.

"In practice, the chief of police would probably not be making that call in a vacuum but would undoubtedly also be in contact with Public Works officials and other city leaders," Frazier said. "As far as by what standards that call would be made, the ordinance revision puts forth 17 different scenarios to guide the standards of what qualifies as a nuisance in need of abatement."

City Council member Tyree Goodlett asked if the amendment provides for a "hardship waiver" for property owners who may not be able to afford to clean up nuisances.

"It doesn't specifically enumerate that," Parker said. "But the police chief, the police department, would have the discretion to consider that, for sure."

Council member Gary Crews noted that in the past, because of foreclosures, it has been difficult for the city to find the owners of nuisance properties, and asked if that is still an issue.

Parker said the difficulty code enforcement has in being able to locate out-of-town owners is one reason for the amendment. If code enforcement can send a letter to the owner rather than have to physically present the owner with a notice, he said, the city can begin the process of cleaning up properties more quickly.

The amendment would also allow the city to correct issues with a property in an emergency situation.

Frazier said that section of the proposal is aimed at dealing with situations such as what happened several weeks ago when a car struck a building on Glenwood Avenue near the intersection with Matilda Street.

"The structure was off of the right of way, but it was badly damaged and in danger of collapse," he said. "That’s obviously a danger to the public, and the property owner lived in Texas. In that case we were able to contact the owner and get approval to tear down the structure. However, in a situation where we could not contact the owner this gives the city the ability to deal with the structure. Another example would be an abandoned property with a swimming pool that was left filled with water. That can be a danger to the public, and if the owners couldn’t be contacted the city could then go in and drain the pool."

The City Council members are expected to vote on the amendment at their Monday, March 1, meeting.

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