BY ROBERT DAY
I am writing this letter to express a concern, and to alert the public to this concern, that I have with the Chapter 18 rewrite 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 am not speaking for the Board in an official capacity.
To give some background: The Los Alamos County Code is the compilation of the legal statutes that are specific to Los Alamos County. Chapter 18 is the portion of this Code entitled “Environment” and Article II of this chapter is entitled “Nuisances.” This is the portion of the Los Alamos County Code that is commonly referred to as “the nuisance code.” Only this portion of Chapter 18 is being rewritten.
My concern is with Sections 18-61c and 18-67 of the rewrite which deal with penalties for violation of this code. Section 18-67 states, “Any person who 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 portion of Section 1-8 that I am concerned with is the following: “any person who shall be convicted of the violation of any such provision of this Code shall be punished by a fine not exceeding $500.00 or by imprisonment not exceeding 90 days, or by both such fine and imprisonment. Every day of any violation of this Code constitutes a separate offense.” Section 18-61c of the rewrite also states: “Each calendar day of a violation shall constitute a separate offense.”
My interpretation of this language is that if a person is in violation of this code, and is brought to Municipal Court by the county, the potential penalty accumulates for each day that a 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 limit of 179 days of accumulated jail time spelled out in Section 1-8 of the County Code). For a violation of one month there is a $15,000 monetary penalty and 179 days in jail. My opinion is that this is excessive.
At the Sept. 19 meeting of the CDAB, the board recommended removing the accumulation language from this rewrite and imposing a cap on total possible fines by 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-accumulative fine be imposed and jail time be totally eliminated for Nuisance violations. I also think that Section 18-61c should be eliminated.
If there is a serious health and safety issue or if a person absolutely refuses to deal with a serious problem, the County can abate the situation and place a lien on the property for the cost of abatement (with a yearly interest rate of 12 percent). This is a stiff penalty itself.
I apologize for the technical nature of this letter (although, the people of this county are used to that), but I do not know any other way to give this information.
At 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 29, in the County Council chambers, the County Council will be hearing public comments on this Code rewrite. I encourage anyone who shares the concerns that I have with these penalties to show up and express these concerns.