Everett aims to ‘streamline’ cumbersome process for code violations

The current system costs about $1 million per year to run, but only brings in about $50,000 in fines. Staff suggested changes.

Everett

EVERETT — Code enforcement could get faster and reap more fines under a set of proposed Everett Municipal Code changes.

The proposed changes would bring compliance orders under the control of Everett’s code enforcement unit, shifting the position of hearing examiner to handle appeals instead of every case.

City staff recommended overhauling Everett Municipal Code 1.20 — which regulates everything from buildings to mobile home parks to billboards to outdoor pools — to “streamline the code enforcement process,” building official Tony Lee told the Everett City Council on Wednesday.

The goal is to take the sting out of a $1 million price tag for enforcing city code. Currently, recovered fines amount to less than 5 percent of that cost.

“Cost recovery is a prime component of this proposal,” Lee said.

Currently the department investigates code violation complaints. If violations are found, the city sends a warning letter and offers time for the property owner to comply.

If that’s not followed, the city issues a violation citation. Out of 1,109 code enforcement cases last year, the city issued 105 citations, code enforcement supervisor Sowar Zakholy told The Daily Herald in July.

If there’s an urgent safety issue, the city can resolve the problem and bill the property owner. The city does that rarely.

A citation case goes to a hearing examiner, who hears testimony from the city and the property owner, and determines what, if any, penalties should be ordered. But that takes two months to schedule, Lee said.

Fines now are $500 per day per violation. But the existing process requires the code enforcement officer to write a new violation citation each day, which then goes to the hearing examiner.

“Our system is not capable of handling this volume of work,” Lee said.

Instead, the proposed change would implement fines of $250 per day without a new notice each day. Violation of a compliance agreement would have a $250 daily penalty, repeat violators $500 daily fines, and $1,000 per day for violation of a stop work order.

Code enforcement staff could set caps for some less critical violations, such as unkempt lawns, while keeping high limits for more serious issues, Lee said.

Using the hearing examiner for the enforcement orders is costly, time-consuming and pushes appeals to the Superior Court level, Lee said.

The hearing examiner process costs about $1 million per year, Lee said. But only about $52,000 in fines is recovered in a typical year. The department estimates its current theoretical maximum recovery through fines at $104,000 per year.

“In our current system, the financial burden for this process is borne by the general fund, the taxpayers and not the code violators themselves,” Lee said.

Under the proposed change, the property owner or responsible party can appeal within 14 days for a $500 fee. The hearing examiner would review appeals.

The council could vote on the proposal at its Oct. 19 meeting.

Ben Watanabe: 425-339-3037; bwatanabe@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @benwatanabe.

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