MARCO ISLAND — Some of Marco’s newest property purchasers are disgruntled with high code fines, yet code board members say fines are just fine with them.
City coffers were boosted by about $85,000 when code fines were paid by the buyer of a short sale property on Marco Island that had a failed seawall since 2008.
The seawall was repaired by the new owner and the Code Enforcement Board decided on Tuesday afternoon not to lower the fines that accrued throughout 2009.
Jo-Ann Williamson, sister-in-law of the vacant lot’s buyer, Mark Williamson, represented her family in the request for a refund of the fines.
“He (Mark) paid for it with the understanding that afterward he could get some relief on those fines,” she said.
Although code board members have said they frequently reduce fines after a property owner fixes a long-term problem, that wasn’t their decision on Tuesday.
Part of the conflict was that two parties — the property seller and buyer — wanted a refund.
The family, which purchased the parcel of land at 809 Amazon Ct., along with their Realtor, said they felt Chief of Code Compliance Eric Wardle gave them false hope that the code board would lower fines once the property’s 160-foot-long seawall, which was first given a notice of violation in August 2008, was repaired.
Several board members didn’t want to hear the mitigation request, for which only the buyer was present to follow through in-person.
“This case is closed ... The fines have been paid. They made the deal. This is a done deal,” said Code Board member Joe Granda.
Code Board member Carol Glassman agreed.
“I was mystified when I saw it ... I don’t think it’s much of an argument,” she said.
Code Board member Rich Adams wanted to hear more because it didn’t make sense at first.
“They can’t both have an out-of-pocket expense,” he said.
The buyer paid the fine through a check from their attorney and the amount was credited on the sale to them by the owner.
However, the buyer said that the sale price was also based on an understanding that fines would likely be mitigated eventually.
Both the buyer and seller sent written requests for the code board to lower the fines through a refund of what was already paid. They couldn’t ask to lower them sooner because city codes required the seawall be repaired first, and a permit couldn’t be obtained by the buyer until the sale was complete.
Marco Marine Construction, hired by Williamson, repaired the seawall in January, as soon as the city approved the permit.
Williamson was fined from Dec. 28, when he took ownership, through Jan. 25, at a rate of $200 per day.
The Code Board voted to refund that money on Tuesday, but not the $84,000 already paid that had accrued the previous year.
Until the buyer came forward, the original owner never contacted the city about the seawall that had fallen into disrepair, Wardle said.
Code Board members asked Wardle who he thought was entitled to mitigation.
“It appears to me, the seller took the loss on this,” he replied
Code Board members said they wished the seller was also present.
“Once again we’re penalizing the individual who got a wrong right,” said Code Board member Lou Prigge.
“It’s not about punishment,” said Granda.
“It’s a fine. What is that, a reward?” Prigge asked.
“It’s something they have to pay,” Granda replied.
Some real estate professionals, City Council members and neighbors of foreclosure properties said they would like mitigation to happen sooner to help motivate people to buy and repair properties that have fines, liens and code violations.
City Council Vice Chairman Frank Recker proposed an ordinance to allow the code board to do just that. However, Code Board Chairman Tarik Ayasun has said he thought the majority of the code board members opposed the proposal.
“They (council) thought they were giving us a gift and we didn’t think we wanted the gift,” Ayasun said.
Code board members have not had an opportunity to share their views on the issue with Ayasun or each other because it would be a violation of Sunshine Law, Adams said.
A workshop was scheduled for 3 p.m., March 24, to discuss the issue of mitigating fines before compliance.
Marco Realtor Wright Taylor, who represented Williamson, said it was misleading to inform prospective buyers that the code board had any inclination to mitigate fines.
The code board, in a 5-1 vote, with Glassman voting “no,” refunded Williamson $200 per day from the day of closing to the day the permit to repair the seawall was issued by the city. The refund was about $2,200.
“I just don’t know where the money is coming from,” Glassman said of the larger, $84,000 fine.
Williamson said if it weren’t for her brother-in-law writing the check, the city would not have received $84,000.
“In a perfect world, (Mark Williamson) wanted $43,000 back to pay for the seawall because that fixes the problem,” said Taylor.
The city should stop fines when a purchase agreement is made between a buyer and seller and if that agreement falls through, then the fines should go back to the original amount, he added.
It would benefit the buyer and the seller.
“The only one it (mitigation before compliance) wouldn’t benefit is the city,” said Taylor.