By ROBERT D. DAY
I am writing this letter to express a concern and to alert the public to this concern I have with the rewrite of Chapter 18 of the Los Alamos County Code.
I am a member of the Community Development Advisory Board (CDAB), but my comments in this letter are my own; I do not speak on behalf of the Board in an official capacity.
To give some background: The Los Alamos County Code is the compilation of legal statutes that are specific to Los Alamos County. Chapter 18 is the part of this Code entitled “Environment” and Article II of this chapter is entitled “Nuisances”. This is the part of the Los Alamos County Code that is commonly known as the “nuisance code”. Only this part of Chapter 18 is being rewritten.
My concern is related to Redraft Sections 18-61c and 18-67, which deal with penalties for violation of this code. Section 18-67 states: “Any person convicted of a violation of any provision of this Chapter shall be sentenced in accordance with Section 1-8 of the Los Alamos County Code.” The part of Section 1-8 that concerns me is this: “any person who is convicted of a violation of any provision of this Code shall be punished by a fine not to exceed $500.00 or by imprisonment not to exceed 90 days, or for both, fine and imprisonment. Each day of any violation of this Code constitutes a separate offense.” Section 18-61c of the redraft also states: “Each calendar day of an offense shall constitute a separate offense.”
My interpretation of this language is that if a person is in violation of this code, and the county takes them to Municipal Court, the potential penalty accumulates for each day the person is in violation of the nuisance. This means that the potential penalty for a 10 day violation (less than two weeks) is $5,000 and 179 days in jail (there is a 179 day limit on accrued jail time detailed in Section 1-8 of the County Code). For a one month violation there is a $15,000 monetary penalty and 179 days in jail. My opinion is that this is excessive.
At the CDAB meeting on September 19, the board recommended removing the accrual language from this rewrite and capping the total number of possible fines with a vote of 6-0. This recommendation was not implemented.
My opinion is that the “Penalties for Violation” section of the code should be rewritten so that only a reasonable, non-cumulative fine is imposed, and jail time for Nuisance violations is eliminated entirely. I also believe that Section 18-61c should be removed.
If there is a serious health and safety problem or if a person flatly refuses to deal with a serious problem, the County can reduce the situation and place a lien on the property for the cost of the reduction (at an annual interest rate of 12 percent). This is a harsh shame in itself.
I apologize for the technical nature of this letter (although people in this county are used to that), but I don’t know of any other way to give this information.
At 6 pm on Tuesday, November 29, in the County Council chambers, the County Council will hear public comment on the rewrite of this Code. I encourage anyone who shares the concerns I have with these sanctions to come forward and voice these concerns.
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