MARCO ISLAND — Code board members weren’t pleased with the idea of major discounts given to Marco Island property owners who violated city rules. So, they proposed a plan designed to benefit those who complied with the codes— or at least eventually complied, but still have outstanding fines to pay.
In early October, City Manager Steve Thompson and Community Development Director Steve Olmsted suggested a 60-day amnesty period to bring a property into compliance and then the fees would be reduced to 25 percent of the total due, plus any hard costs, such as pool and lawn service, incurred by the city. The decreased amount would be due by the end of the 60 days.
The 75 percent off deal didn’t appeal to the members of the Code Enforcement Board, which unanimously opposed the proposal.
Chairman Tarik Ayasun helped develop a new plan meant to help people who are currently in compliance.
He described the earlier proposal as a “carte blanche” for all rather than an incentive for doing right.
Property owners who are in compliance but have fines to pay are invited to a special meeting of the Code Board in late January to plea their case for fine reductions.
Code Board member Joe Batte respected Thompson’s and Olmsted’s idea to try to speed up compliance and fine payments, but thought there was a better way.
“I had problems with the amnesty program because I don’t want to see people who have not complied at all be rewarded.”
Batte, on vacation with family at the time, said he wasn’t familiar with all the details of the newest plan, but said the concept seems to be an improvement.
The city has received about $300,000 in code fines so far this year, but there are still more than $2.6 million in uncollected fines from foreclosure properties, Thompson reported.
Fines and interest owed by 18 properties that are in compliance add to $573,000, Olmsted reported. Approximately $2 million is owed by the 29 property owners not in compliance.
Those 29 property owners will not have an opportunity to request a mitigation hearing or savings on their fines— at least not in January. Their fines continue to accrue daily, usually at a rate of $250 per day, per violation, until the problems are remedied.
The properties already in compliance may request a mitigation hearing by Jan. 22. Property owners seeking relief must submit a written, notarized request for mitigation, including the grounds and circumstances justifying mitigation, Olmsted said.
This plan gives relief to those currently in compliance and may compel others to do the same, Ayasun said.
The code board has authority reduce or mitigate fines previously levied by the board following the recording of a lien, Olmsted said.
Attorney Jonathan Shamres, of the Weiss-Serota law firm, advised that mitigation should be based on logical reasoning, such as how quickly owners responded to the notice of violation, their attendance at their scheduled hearings and to some extent, the factors that may have delayed their ability to correct the violation in a timely manner.
The process Thompson initially described for city council emphasized having the property owner correct the problem immediately, and, in exchange for doing so, getting a discount on fines.
The biggest differences between the plans are that instead of 75 percent off for all who come into compliance by a certain date, the code board will have discretion as to how much to reduce the fines, if at all, for properties currently in compliance if they come to a hearing before the board.
“Even if we only get $60,000, that’s $60,000 we wouldn’t have collected,” Ayasun said.
Code mitigation plans and amnesty programs are used by several local governments to improve safety and aesthetics in neighborhoods, as well as to collect fines. Potential benefits to Marco may also include increased real estate sales and values with decreased amounts of recorded liens.
Code Enforcement Board member Joe Granda said the plan will help Marco property owners by what he has described as a “compassionate” board.
Before hearing of the most current plan, Marco resident Dave Stonier told the Eagle that there may be no right or wrong method, but he supported the city’s endeavor to collect as many fees as possible.
“If you have a seller who is despondent over finances, trying to save his or her home, and living in the property, you have to cut the person a break. But, if the owner has abandoned the property, he or she should pay the penalties.”
Councilman Bill Trotter said the initial amnesty program offered a lot of savings, but the city would lose too much money. Councilman Jerry Gibson agreed.
Marco resident Eddie Vasquez previously told the Eagle that he just didn’t want to see the city give banks more relief.
“Why should the taxpayer bail out the banks again?”