Pilot code enforcement program yields results

A more proactive approach to reducing blight in Pasco County appears to be working, and the Pasco County Commission wants the efforts to continue.

Commissioners approved a pilot program in April 2017, described as “high return enforcement.”

The focus was to become more aggressive in pursuing the worst of the county’s code violators through the use of fines and court actions.

A pilot program to take proactive actions to reduce blight in Pasco County resulted in demolition of about 50 mobile homes in the former Lazy Breeze Mobile Home & RV Park, outside Dade City. (Courtesy of Pasco County)

A partnership of county departments, including the county attorney’s office, Pasco County Sheriff’s Office, code enforcement and building inspections have worked together, using existing staff members and resources.

The program has received no dedicated funding.

Assistant County Attorney Kristi Sims presented a progress report during a recent workshop in New Port Richey.

“The idea was to use what we had and to reorganize to take on more than what would normally have been taken on,” said Sims.

The program focused on repeat offenses, danger to health and public safety, and violations with serious impacts to the community.

Highlights from the past year include:

  • 63 blighted structures were demolished by property owners
  • 55 blighted structures were demolished by Pasco County
  • 17 demolitions are pending
  • 10 nonconforming signs have been removed or converted to monument signs
  • 46 signs have been repaired
  • More than 8,500 illegally stored tires were removed from five sites, as a result of lawsuits
  • Lawsuits are pending against five owners of vacant, dilapidated commercial buildings

One court case, settled in 2017, led to the removal of about 40 mobile homes and as many as 15 recreational vehicles at the Lazy Breeze Mobile Home & RV Park, off U.S. 301, outside Dade City.

“We’ve done a lot with a little,” Sims said. “It’s up to the board to decide if they want us to continue doing it.”

The program won praise from county commissioners.

“I think the public really notices,” said Pasco County Commissioner Kathryn Starkey.

More than 8,500 illegally stored tires were removed from several sites as a result of a pilot program to take proactive actions to reduce blight in Pasco County.

In her district, Starkey said no one has a problem with removing blight because “it’s keeping their property values down. It’s keeping commerce and business out.”

Pasco County Commission Chairman Mike Wells Jr., also complimented the program’s results.

He had one cautionary caveat.

“We shouldn’t be overregulating and hurting small businesses,” said Wells. But, he did favor demolitions, and other actions that address matters of life and public safety.

The county’s priority is “not to go out and bust people’s chops about a sign or bushes,” he added.

Sims said the program relies on a scoring system to prioritize the worst offenses, including factors such as safety risks.

“Our goal is to strategize enforcement based on the board’s goals,” she said.

“Commercial blight is an expressed priority of this board,” Sims said.

She also noted that the county is flexible in scheduling a timetable to complete repairs.

“Our goal isn’t to eradicate a business or use, if it can be fixed,” Sims said. “What we’re looking for is compliance, and progressing toward fixing it.”

One of the challenges is to balance an employee’s everyday workload with the additional duties required by the new enforcement efforts, Sims said.

A lot of time is taken up with clerical work, and the need for up-to-date communications on work done by multiple departments. Additional staff for clerical work and building inspections is needed, Sims said.

County commissioners seemed to be receptive to the idea of including funds in the 2019 budget to address some of these issues.

Published May 9, 2018

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