September 20, 2006
Supe Gets Serious
Crackdown on Code Violators
Southold Supervisor Scott Russell is mad as hell. And he's not going to take it anymore.
Since taking office this year, Russell has sounded the alarm on the need for more stringent code enforcement. And it's not just talk: Now he's putting his money where his mouth is, proposing a serious hike in first-offense fines that could have code violators thinking twice.
Under current town code the various fines for first offenses for building without a permit or creating illegal rentals is approximately $250 to $500. Russell's proposal is to raise first offense fees to between $5000 and $10,000.
The goal is to focus on major offenses and leave modest transgressions to the current scale. "It is important to let the absentee landlords who continue to exploit the community know that we mean business now and we are not going to accept it anymore," he said.
The heart of the issue, said Russell, is that while Southold has "generally stringent code regulations" with regard to residential and commercial building and use, enforcement is an issue.
"This is a real problem," he said. "The people who are especially affected are the ones who live by the rules. They are at an unfair disadvantage to those who simply do want they want. It has to stop now."
Russell has consistently said that the town needs one set of rules for everyone. "There are many aspects of the town code that should be reviewed and, perhaps, loosened; however, whatever the rules are, they need to be applied evenly," he said.
To that end, the supervisor has suggested a number of changes, including that of raising the current schedule of fines for code violators.
"Under current code language, someone can profit for years by overhabitating a rental home or even illegally converting a structure to a rental," said Russell. In fact, the supervisor added, such situations might have existed for years, placing unfair burdens squarely on the shoulders of Southold taxpayers who are burdened with increased demands on schools, fire departments and town services.
Violators, he said, have been able to exist "without as much as paying a penny into the tax base and, once fined, pay a mere couple of hundred dollars to the town. Where exactly is the disincentive in that?"
Russell, who was a town tax assessor before winning the supervisor's seat in the last election, said he spent years assessing homes whose owners applied for building permits and followed proper procedure. However, he said, many individuals didn't bother. "As a result, the ones who followed the rules paid more in taxes than the ones who didn't. This is one of the most inverted functionings of local government that has to be addressed."
Russell has also suggested revisiting the current town code to reconsider criteria for accessory apartments. He believes the code should support local young families or seniors who are having difficulty making ends meet and could benefit from the income generated by an accessory apartment.
The concept would also provide additional housing to offset growing demands.
On the whole, the supervisor is to make the rules regarding code violations and fees equitable for everyone. "The current process is seemingly only really benefiting those, especially, absentee landlords, who have no concerns for the rules or the community," said Russell.