Cullen ordinance could put restraints on residents
During the Cullen Board of Alderman meeting Tuesday, a proposed ordinance that aims to beautify the town caused some heated discussions.
It would require certain levels of quality to be maintained. At issue were potential penalties for those who fail to comply.
"This puts some serious restraints on everybody that lives in this town," Alderman Gary Sullivan said. "I know we've got some problems with dilapidated buildings run-over properties.
"You're telling me that we're going to vote that we can put somebody in jail for 30 days because they didn't cut their grass on their property?" he continued. "That's pretty serious stuff."
The ordinance would contain extensive detailed requirements for a building's facilities, appearance and structural soundness. Requirements would essentially be for every part of the main building, all out buildings and the property where they are located.
A property standards hearing board would be created. Inspectors would be empowered to issue citations to the building's owner, agent or occupant, even if the owner's property was sold for delinquent taxes within the three years preceding the citation.
Penalties would begin with a simple citation to repair the cited issue. If the citation were not complied with, the town would be able to repair it and place a lien on the property for the cost of the work done. An administrative fee of $150 would also be levied.
If the levy is unpaid for six months, the town could sell the property to recoup it.
If a dwelling were declared unfit for human use, it could be demolished.
The owner, agent or occupant could be charged with a misdemeanor offense for any violation of the ordinance.
A first conviction would carry at least a $300 fine or up to 30 days in jail, plus restitution for any work performed by the town. A second conviction would increase the fine to $400 and jail term to 60 days. A third or subsequent violation would increase the fine to $500.
Each day the violation continues, adds another offense.
"I think people should be aware that we're going to have somebody come and inspect properties," Sullivan said. "And if your property doesn't meet certain standards, we can have you arrested and put in jail."
Mayor Dexter Turner responded that people shouldn't be afraid of being arrested due to the ordinance.
"In this particular ordinance, the last step is to have somebody arrested," he said. "That's the last step.
"The first step is to get them to clean their property up," Turner continued. "The next, if they don't clean their property up, we go in there and clean their property up. The last step is to have them arrested."
Alderwoman Betty Green said she is also in support of the ordinance because it provides a timelier remedy.
"We need to get something a little bit stiffer that we don't have to wait two years, three years to get the property owners to clean up their property," she said. "And with this ordinance, it cuts the time for them to get their property cleaned up."
Alderwoman Floydean White pointed out that the ordinance was changeable.
"We can revisit this property standard package here," she said. "I'm in agreement with it – that we pass it and then if we feel it's too stiff or causing too many problems for the citizens, there's nothing said that it's cut in stone, that we cannot be flexible in some areas of it.
"So, I think once we put this on the books, everyone in the community knows that we are serious about cleaning up our town," she continued. "I think everybody here in Cullen wants to see our town look better."
Everyone agreed that something needed to be done if Cullen was ever going to attract new people and businesses.
"The only way we're going to get something to come into Cullen is to clean it up," said newly-appointed Alderman Terry Hoof. "Look at Sarepta, they've got Dollar General. How are we going to get something to come into Cullen if we don't clean it up?"
Some pointed out dilapidated buildings that sit behind the town's municipal building.
"That is where we're going to start," White said.
While everyone agreed the problem needs to be addressed, some were still concerned the proposed ordinance was too heavy-handed.
"I truly think we're using an elephant gun to shoot fleas," Sullivan said.