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County mulls change to enforcement ordinance

March 24, 2012

Changes could soon be coming to the way the county enforces code and ordinance violations.

At a public hearing Monday, county commissioners heard from county counsel Johnson Dunn on a plan to revise the county code to allow for administrative and/or judicial hearings for violations.

Currently the county's code enforcement system is based on numerous specific and scattered violations, which hampers the county's ability to follow through and enforce code violations.

"It's pretty much all over the place," said County Administrator David Meriwether after the meeting. "There is not much consistency there."

The revisions in the code would provide for administrative and judicial proceedings, with county violations being prosecuted through administrative or judicial proceedings and building code violations being enforced through administrative proceedings.

Currently the county has no infrastructure in place for administrative hearings, and creating that infrastructure would bring it into compliance with the state.

The county administrator would appoint hearing officers for all administrative hearings to hear cases and impose civil penalties. Hearings officers would be required to be a member in good standing of the Oregon Bar.

Dunn suggested that the county could either contract with one hearing officer, or have several for different areas of violations.

The hearings officers would not be brought in unless a case was contested by the defendant.

The code change would also give the county a broader range to enforce violations, with county enforcement officers, law enforcement or county counsel authorized to prosecute enforcement proceedings.

Meriwether said the change in the code was necessary to bring Hood River County's building code violation enforcement into compliance with the rest of the state and give it a more effective enforcement tool.

In one recent case "we ran into a wall where we had an enforcement which needed to go forward but we didn't have a way to do it," he said. Meriwether added he felt that the actual hearings would be rarely used.

"If we did this twice a year, I would be surprised," he said.

The proposed ordinance change also suggests changes to how county enforcements are classified. Currently all violations are categorized separately. Under the new system, a tiered structure would be set up, with class I violations subject to a fine up to $5,000, class II violations up to a $1,000 fine and class III violations up to a $250 fine.

The county took no action on the proposed ordinance change Monday and will hold another public hearing on the matter during its April meeting following revisions by Dunn to the proposed ordinance.

Also at Monday's meeting:

The county heard an update from county forester Doug Thieses, who said the county is moving forward on trail clearing operations and preparing for several salvage sales after the January storms.

The county will be using emergency funds to cover survey work on the sale areas, as well as trail and road repair. Thieses estimated the cost at around $300,000 for repair work.

However, the trail work will be reimbursable from FEMA disaster funds.

Theises said one of the priorities of the county will be clearing the Seven Stream Trail.

He said around 100 trees are down across the trail in county land, and that he wanted to have a professional called in to buck the trail out.

"It's a place for professionals to be doing that work," he said. "There is a lot of tension in those trees."

After the trail is cleared, the county will be preparing for a sale in the area, and Thieses said now was the best time to start the cleanup, make the trail usable, and also prepare for a sale before downed and dead trees became insect-infested.

"This is the hardest-hit area," he said. "This is the right time to do it."

The board appointed Bob Benton as vice chair, a largely ceremonial position, for the year by a 3-1 vote - with Benson as the only vote opposed.

Commissioner Karen Joplin was appointed to the MCAREC Extension Advisory Committee.

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