Code enforcement reviewed

John Scarffe
Gilpin County

Gilpin County Community Development Director Tony Petersen presented the 2001 Code Enforcement Policy and costs for future implementation to the Gilpin County Board of County Commissioners during a regular meeting at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, October 4, 2016 at the Gilpin County Courthouse. Board Chair Linda Isenhart said the code was last drafted in 2001, 15 years ago. “A lot of things we do are still pertinent to this code.”

Petersen said he brought out the code enforcement policy in response a request from Commissioner Gail Watson. “This is a good time to do this.” At the September 20, 2016 Board meeting, the Commissioners approved updated zoning codes for the County.

A memo to the Board in February 2001 introducing the code enforcement policy states: “The following is a general policy statement and an implementation procedure I can recommend. This policy and procedures represents my best attempt to balance the Board’s expressed desire for strict code enforcement while “treading lightly” on our citizens.”

Commissioner Watson said: “That says it in a nutshell. ‘Tread lightly on our citizens.’” That’s why we hired a part-time enforcement employee. Air B&B, an online service in which people advertise rooms for rent in their residences and the rooms are booked by travelers online, has raised some concerns.

“We have a lot of residents who are very concerned with what is happening in their neighborhoods,” Watson said. “Some of the resort counties are having a huge problem with this.

“We have a bigger conversation we need to have. There’s a guy renting out a bus and one renting out a trailer.”

Petersen said the Commissioners could initiate recommendations, and then they would go down to the Planning Commission. Watson said that the County does have regulations in effect, and Petersen said there is a big difference between a vacation rental and a Bed & Breakfast. Air B&B would be allowed as a home residence.

Isenhart said the Board needs to address taxation of residences with Air B&B. Watson said that if you institute a lodging tax, the funds have to be used for tourism, so she didn’t think that would really benefit the County.

Commissioner Buddy Schmalz said that, because the County has drifted away from its policy, that’s where some of the problems have come in. Complaint driven enforcement has worked very well.

Watson said: “Residents don’t want to police their neighbors, because that puts them in an adversarial relationship with them. That’s why I favor a part-time code enforcement employee.”

According to the 2001 enforcement procedure, upon receiving or observing a complaint an initiation sheet will be filed. Staff will then visit the site to investigate. If deemed in violation, the owner will be contacted immediately and an acceptable remedy explained.

If compliance is not complete within 30 days, legal notice will be served. If an agreed upon action plan results in progress toward compliance, no further action will be taken. If progress ceases, or one year expires, a remedy through the courts will be sought.

Petersen said the first step is to send a letter. “We get most compliance from the letter.” Isenhart said that giving people a year to voluntarily comply is too much. She suggested a couple of months.

Petersen said that when they send out a warning letter, the residents have to contact the County within ten days.

Isenhart asked Petersen if he wanted to talk about personnel options. Petersen agreed and said he did not hire the part-time code-enforcement employee to whom Watson had referred.

“I wanted to find out if it would have an impact on other things we were doing,” Petersen said. “I think we did a good job, but I think we need a part-time person.”

“Having someone else going about doing that is a challenge. The neighbors should call if they have a complaint. You either step up or you don’t,” Schmalz said. “If the violation is not impeding their life they don’t call, but if they have a complaint we have a system in place to deal with it.”

Schmalz said he thinks it’s arbitrary. “Even if you had a big team of people going out, you wouldn’t find everything.”

Isenhart said they have a bigger picture of historic preservation. “A part-time code enforcer would be a good addition to the department. I would encourage us to follow that. It’s not a huge investment at $21,736.”

Watson pointed out that it’s already in the budget. “I know we have more and more people moving up here.”
Petersen pointed out his memo on implementation costs. “In anticipation of the Board of County Commissioners policy discussion contemplating a more aggressive approach to code enforcement, staff has prepared a cost comparison of current policy implementation with possible future policy implementation,” Petersen wrote.

Petersen gave three options comparing the cost of staffing. Option one, which is in the 2016 budget, would cost $21,736, as Isenhart mentioned. The second option would combine all building and zoning code enforcement with building and septic permitting and inspections into one full-time position for $43,500.

“We’re not going to go back down to our former numbers,” Petersen said. “We’re only going to go up.”

Schmalz said the Commissioners have to look at the big picture. “Every time we get a request, we can’t fulfill it. Let’s look at this during budget time so we’re looking at the big picture.”

Watson asked Petersen if he could take the 2001 policies and add in what the department currently is doing. Isenhart said the Board will look forward to further discussion in a couple of weeks at the budget hearing.

The Board met on October 18, 2016. The next meeting of the Gilpin County Board of County Commissioners will be at 9 a.m. Tuesday, November 1, 2016 at the Gilpin County Courthouse, 203 Eureka Street, Central City.