By C.J. Barbre

County residents take note. A new fee or fine schedule has been approved by the Tulare County Board of Supervisors for properties in violation of county blight ordinances. And copies are in the hands of the county auditor/controller, county counsel, county fire, Resource Management Agency and the sheriff.

Presently, the Resource Management Agency charges administrative fees at the time of the administrative hearing for code violations or "Code Compliance." The fee was $500 for the first violation and $100 for each additional violation. At the time of the hearing, the violator has received at least three notices and the property has been inspected at least four times.

That's all over.

Now fees will start to be incurred after the first notice. This allows for an initial inspection to verify a complaint and the first notice to comply being mailed, along with a follow-up inspection. If the problem has been fixed, no administrative fees are assessed. But if a second notification, a 30-day "Notice to Abate," is sent and not acted upon, the fine is $270. On the third notification the fine is $765. If the party waits until after a hearing, the fine is $1,050.

If the county has to come in and do the cleanup, the charge in addition to the $1,050, is $45 per hour for staff time. If there are three consecutive violations per year, the violator may be subject to a fine of up to $1,000 per violation per day. All costs are attached to the property tax bill.

You can see the incentive here. Instead of lowering fines, thereby ostensibly rewarding people for continuing failing to comply, they increase dramatically the longer violations are in effect. County counsel said the fines are in fact just the recovery of costs, as allowed by law.

District 5 Supervisor Jim Maples said that fire violations, which is to say weed abatement, has been a problem with constituents saying they never got notice. "We need to be sure when we make these one, two, three notifications."

Tom Sherry, associate director of RMA, agreed that they had to make sure to follow due process.

"I think this and CDF inspections will help us clean up the county," Maples said.

District 3 Supervisor Phil Cox asked if this would apply to the 1,600 outstanding violation notices.

Sherry assured him they would be going through the backlog.

"What a great day to clean up the county!" Cox said.

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