Code enforcement

ANDREW KENNESON/Kodiak Daily Mirror

Code enforcement officer James Dixon inspects a junked truck abandoned alongside Sunset Drive on September 3. 

 

The blue truck sits on the side of Sunset Drive, a little gravel side street off Woodland Drive, just past the intersection of Rezanof Drive and Mill Bay Road. 

It’s not going anywhere. The hood’s been torn off. Everything underneath is gone. The wheels are missing, and the windshield is frosted with cracks. Rust and dents pepper the truck’s body. 

Kodiak is rife with junk cars. There’s only one junkyard on the island, Nick’s in Bells Flats, where it costs $300 to dispose of one. Not everyone can, or wants to, pay that amount. 

So some vehicles sit in front yards, grass growing around them. Others, like the one on Sunset, people abandon on public land, often in rights of way. 

Until recently, there was little the Kodiak Island Borough could do about this. It had rules against leaving old vehicles on public land but little means of enforcing them. It could take violators to court, a long and expensive process, and the court could punish offenders. But the borough could not assign fines itself. 

That’s because it did not have what’s called a Uniform Table of Minor Offenses, a set of fines for violations of borough rules of things like abandoning junk cars, disposing of trash improperly or keeping piles of waste in yards. The city of Kodiak had a UMOT, as it’s more commonly known, but the borough did not until about two months ago. 

Getting to that point took months. For hours and hours last year, the borough assembly discussed what a fine schedule might look like. Many citizens weighed in too. It passed in February of this year, but didn’t take effect until the borough’s new fiscal year started on July 1. 

The borough code spans 18 chapters and deals with issues from zoning to business licenses to taxes. The UMOT only assigns fines to a handful of violations of those ordinances. They are the rules around animals, abandoned vehicles, solid waste storage and disposal, and obstruction of right of way. The borough can now fine people who violate those rules. 

“Code enforcement was very limited in the past. We had no ability to write fines for infractions,” said Erin Welty, the borough’s community development director. 

“Prior to having that (UMOT), it was just a lot of contact, a lot of talking to people, but with no teeth behind it, if you will,” she added.  

Last month, James Dixon, a former Coast Guard law enforcement officer, joined the borough as a code enforcement officer. It’s not a new position, but it’s been empty since last July, when the previous officer left. But now, with UMOT on the books, the position has much more authority. 

Take the blue truck, for instance. When Dixon finds a vehicle like that, which is both junked and in the public right of way, he’ll slap a tag on it saying it’s in violation. Then he’ll run the license plate to try to find the current registered owner and send them a notice. 

If the owner doesn’t respond within five days, and if it fits in the state’s definition of a junk vehicle and doesn’t have an active registration, then the borough can tow it to the junkyard. 

If it’s still operable, there is a longer window to track down and notify the last registered owner. The difference between now and before UMOT passed is that Dixon can levy a fine on the last registered owner. 

“In the past, when we towed a vehicle, there was no consequence. Now, with the fine schedule, if we can track the last registered owner, we can at least recoup some of that money,” Welty said.  

There are plenty of junk vehicles on private property, Dixon said, but right now he’s only concerned with those on public property. He said there’s usually four or five he’s aware of at any given time. The fine for an abandoned vehicle is $450 for the first offense and $600 for subsequent offenses. 

Trash, which falls under solid waste storage and disposal, is trickier. It’s a violation and fineable offence to put trash outside of a communal dumpster or not to latch the bear-proof lock. 

But Dixon has to catch someone in the act to fine them, which is unlikely to happen. So he’s done more education, pointing people to other dumpsters and cleaning up the ones he finds with trash outside. People can also take large items to the landfill, where the first 250 pounds are free. 

Solid waste on people’s property is even harder still. If he drives by a house where the front yard is full of old mattresses, tires, scrap wood and other trash, Dixon will send them an advisory notice and let them know what fines they could face. It’s $50 for the first offense, and up to $1,000 for the fourth. 

Even though there are fines the borough could levy on the property owner, this sort of situation is also easier to deal with on a person-to-person level, Dixon said. 

“If we can mitigate that by using me to go investigate, show face and educate, it really shows that we are here to help with the problems they are having or at least come to a good compromise,” he said. 

UMOT will not solve all these issues overnight. These are difficult situations to resolve, even with the added teeth of fines. 

“I think the thought was that once we had a fine schedule it would fix everything, and it’s not quite that,” Welty said. “There’s policies we have to follow. It’s a slow process. We’re not just going to go out and randomly write tickets that are not going to hold up.” 

 

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