Benton County's code enforcement program is about to get tougher.
County officials have decided to reduce the time allowed for violators to correct their problems.
Currently there is a minimum of 74 days from the time a notice of violation is mailed to a property owner until a citation can be issued for noncompliance. That will be cut to 30 days.
Steve Brown, a Benton County building official, said the idea is to make enforcement more effective by speeding up the process. He described his suggestions to county commissioners Wednesday during a special workshop on code enforcement issues.
"One of our big concerns is the amount of time involved," Brown said. Current policy allows for two 30-day notices, plus 14 more days before a civil citation is issued. And it can be months more before a criminal action is brought against an offending citizen, Brown explained.
The changes in procedures and policies are expected to help Jackie McWherter, county enforcement officer, obtain compliance on code violations.
But shortening the time for corrections isn't enough for Dan Deckert of Benton City.
"That time period is too lax," said Deckert, one of several county residents who complained to commissioners in December that the county code severely lacked enforcement authority.
Deckert, who was contacted by the Herald on Wednesday, said reducing the time for property owners to correct code violations was good, but it didn't address other concerns.
"Why give them 30 days before writing a citation? It ought to be 14 days. Just get it over and done with," Decker said.
"(The county) has to stop this from happening again and again. People are being put on notice, they correct it and then go right back and do it again. It can go on for years and years," he said. "All this does is shorten the cycle."
Deckert asked the commission three months ago why the board collectively hadn't taken action.
Chairman Jim Beaver told Deckert then that the junkyard issue was "most difficult" because the county had to follow due process with code enforcement violations.
Commissioner Leo Bowman promised he would work on the problem by conferring with county staff and have a complete review.
Wednesday's workshop, which was led by Bowman as the new commission chairman for 2011, began with an overview of the issue.
"What drove this today is citizen complaints about junk in neighbors' yards," Bowman said.
After discussing the current process, commissioners agreed that Brown could change the procedures as necessary.
Brown also recommended that complaints be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, that the code enforcement officer start issuing citations without getting a prosecuting attorney's review and that the code enforcement officer try to talk with violators about how to fix problems before issuing a citation.
Commissioner Shon Small said giving the officer discretion was a good idea.
"We've had 20 years of basically a broken system," he said.
Sitting down and talking with people is preferable to sending a citation, Bowman agreed.
"We asked Steve Brown to tell us how to speed up the process, and that's what he did. It's a good step forward," Bowman said.
The commissioners agreed to revisit the code enforcement issue within six months to see how well the changes work.
-- John Trumbo: 582-1529; firstname.lastname@example.org