Effective immediately, trustees unanimously agreed to increase the maximum fine for violating Garden City zoning codes from $250 to $1,500.
The $1,250 hike, which came after some debate over whether or not a minimum fine should also be set, also applies to penalties for offenses like washing your car on the street.
"There's a lot of manpower costs involved in all these issues and I believe we should have a minimum fine for each such event," trustee Brian Daughney said. "I would suggest somewhere in the $750 range - not per day but a one-time."
Building superintendent Mike Filippon said the change strictly has to do with a dollar amount. "We've always had fines for [zoning] code violations but the limit was $250," he said. "All this does is increase the limit from $250 to $1,500."
The building department's primary goal when confronting a violation is compliance - not punishing people unnecessarily, Filippon said. The process first involves issuing notices and speaking to violators.
"We don't get to the point of issuing a summons until we have reached the end of our rope and we're not getting cooperation," he said. The department then enlists the help of the police department to issue the summons. The case then goes before a village judge.
"The court uses its power of discretion to decide how egregious the violation is and what kind of logical fine to impose," Filippon said. "That's not something we get involved with. That's the judge's decision."
Filippon said there isn't a "widespread" problem in Garden City, which currently has a small number of non-compliance cases. "A lot of times in the property maintenance area the difficulty lies in the fact that ... the current owner is in some kind of financial distress and that has led to some deterioration of the property," he said.
The increase would give the court more leverage in dealing with the difficult cases, Filippon added. "It just changes the dollar amount. It's not going to change our procedures, how we investigate or how we arrive at the point of when we're ultimately going to issue a summons."
Years ago the building department embarked on a very aggressive code enforcement program. Predictably, Filippon said, the department found some kind of code violation block by block, at nearly every other house.
"We couldn't engage in selective enforcement so we had to put everybody on notice," he said. The courts got flooded with these cases, many of which the judge threw out because they were so minor, and the entire program abruptly stopped.
"We re-evaluated the whole situation and we fell back on the way we practiced, which is essentially by attrition," Filippon said. "Using that practice rather than a widespread program proved to be more reasonable and a llittle more tolerable for both us and the court."
Filippon believes that once news of the hefty increase spreads it may serve as an incentive for residents to correct violations a little more expeditiously.
Do you agree with Mr. Filippon? Or do you think the increase is too steep? Let us know in the comments.