Civil penalty fines could increase

City council members are considering increasing the fine of code enforcement violations such as junked vehicles in the yard and unkept lawns.

Marshalltown Police Chief Mike Tupper asked council members Monday to consider raising the civil penalty for violations against code enforcement from $100 to $750 for a first offense and from $200 to $1,000 for the second offense to repeat offenders.

The police department has been heavily involved with code enforcement issues and has been successful with code enforcement issues, Tupper said.

Tupper said there are hundreds of people who violate code enforcement issues each year.

“Our goal is and will always be obtaining voluntary compliance,” he said. “We realize people have difficult situations they are dealing with; we aren’t looking to penalize folks and make life harder, but we also have repeat offenders and people that just plain don’t want to cooperate. Currently the best we can do is issue them a $100 fine and that’s just not convincing people to cooperate anymore.”

When Tupper was a police chief in Nevada, he said he raised civil penalties at the same level and it made a difference.

“It doesn’t mean we are going to issue more tickets,” he said. “It’s not about revenue for me, it never has been and it never will be. Sometimes we need a heavy penalty to convince people that it’s in their best interest to voluntarily comply. At the end of the day that’s what we are trying to get done.”

City Administrator Randy Wetmore said the penalty could go up to $750, it wouldn’t exceed $750 and a judge would decide the final penalty.

Mayor Jim Lowrance said he gets many calls and emails regarding code enforcement.

“People are truly concerned about the appearance of the city,” Lowrance said. “There are safety issues that go along with that. I think this is a good step for us to take, $750 will get people’s attention.”

Tupper said the police department doesn’t write a lot of those tickets, they ask and then give them time to comply.

“We don’t want to write a lot of these citations,” Tupper said. “Sometimes it’s necessary.”

Roger Schoell, city attorney, will draft the changes, and the council will vote on the raising the penalty to civil infractions at its next meeting.

“It takes your time to work through a municipal infraction,” Bethany Wirin, at-large council member said to Tupper. “We’re not even coming close to recouping our cost at all. I think I’m in favor of it.”

Contact Stephanie Ivankovich at 641-753-6611 or sivankovich@timesrepublican.com