Bryan County residents now will face stiffer penalties for not keeping their property tidy.
County commissioners voted unanimously at their meeting last week to raise the minimum fine for property maintenance violations from $50 to $250, effective immediately.
“It needs to be more than $50,” Chairman Jimmy Burnsed said during the Tuesday meeting.
The $50 minimum fine had been in place since the mid-1990s, County Administrator Ben Taylor said. The maximum penalty of $1,000 remained unchanged.
The regulations apply to homes and businesses. Violations include overgrown grass and weeds, broken windows or other structural disrepair, neglected vehicles on the property or trash, junk or debris in the yard.
“No refrigerators in the front yard,” Burnsed used as an example.
The county’s code enforcement officer attests that the low fines have done little to deter nuisance property, Taylor told the commissioners. Violations that are not corrected by the landowner are turned over to magistrate court, and the judge issues a fine from within the county's extablished range.
“This (increase) creates a little more incentive for them to clean up what they need to clean up,” Taylor said. “The last thing you want to do is take it to court because that takes so long to go through that process.”
The majority of the county’s cases — “probably 90 percent or so” — are resolved by the landowner fixing the problem after one notification, Taylor said. The monetary fine is typically reserved for those who don’t comply after being contacted multiple times by the county, he added.
Commissioner Noah Covington questioned whether people are going to pay a $250 fine when some landowners haven’t been cooperative about paying a $50 one.
Commissioner Steve Myers countered, “For $50, you might not do it. But for $250, you may get out there and move the refrigerator.”
The bottom line, according to Taylor, isn’t so much the revenue that will be collected from the higher fines but the anticipated reduction they will make on property violations. The county responds to complaints about eyesores and does not “go around looking” for violations, he said.
“The fine is not the ends to the means. We’re not out there trying to make money,” Taylor said.
“You’re losing money (with the lower fines),” Myers said. “You go out there three times to somebody’s house, you’re losing money.”