It has been a little more than a year since the Property Maintenance Code failed to pass in a 3-2 vote by the Baldwin County Board of Commissioners.
Although the proposed ordinance was unsuccessful, the code enforcement office has made progress in cleaning up some of the county’s most unsightly properties since last summer.
An eager new code enforcement officer, Chad Phillips, was hired last October, and with him came a renewed sense of duty toward making the county a safer, more attractive place for all its residents.
“Canvassing the county for dilapidated properties as well as looking for illegal dumping is a large part of my job,” said Phillips. “I put out cameras at illegal dumping sites and have been successful in catching the perpetrators.”
Phillips said that illegal dumping is a large-scale issue that is not limited to one part of the county but unfortunately is prominent throughout all rural areas. The items that are being dumped, including tires and motor oil, are not only unsightly but according to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), who Phillips works with regularly, is hazardous to the environment.
The cameras he installed at dumping sites have caught residents in the act of unloading tires, mattresses, trash, and other materials onto private property.
According to Baldwin County Code of Ordinances (Chapter 46-Solid Waste Article II-Waste Control under Sec.46-36-Violation of articles (a) penalties), anyone in violation of not properly disposing of materials could be punished by a fine between $100 to $1,000 or up to 60 days imprisonment.
If the violation is deemed environmentally hazardous by the DNR or the EPD (Environmental Protection Division of Georgia), the fine could be as much as $25,000 per day.
“I treat everybody the same. I believe in second chances,” said Phillips. “I give people a chance to clean up the site, and if they do, I will clear the citation, but the fines will accumulate if that action is not taken.”
Phillips suggested that having the convenience centers open at the same time throughout the county would help discourage the dumping by giving residents the option of disposing of items properly. The centers do not process tires but do take household trash, and most take cardboard process. Baldwin County currently has no facility that recycles tires.
“We have several convenience centers in the county, but usually only two are open at any given time. We are trying to find a way to have them all open at the same time consistently,” he said.
Dilapidated and abandoned properties throughout the county are another issue that Phillips has tackled since he took the position last October. There has been success tracking neglectful homeowners who live outside the county and even beyond state lines. Since that time, 28 homes have been cleaned; five are in the process of cleaning up; four are unfinished, and four are out for bids for being razed.
He referenced the county ordinance Chapter 18 Sec. 18-93-Duty of owners; public officer designated; and enforcement, as giving him the powers to track down and penalize property owners who are not maintaining their land and homes to code standards.
The code states that it is the duty of the owner of every dwelling, building, structure, or property within the unincorporated limits of the county to construct and maintain their dwellings, buildings, structures, and/or property in conformance with applicable codes in force within the jurisdiction, or such ordinances which regulate and prohibit activities on property and which declare it to be a public nuisance to construct or maintain any dwellings, building, structure, or property in violation of such codes or ordinances.
“I deal a lot of abandon houses that are being used for drugs and other illegal activities as well as homes that have burned down and have not yet been cleaned up,” said Phillips. “I basically issue a citation to the owner and let them know they have so many days to get the property cleaned up.”
Although the office is currently looking at ways to make the penalty a lot stiffer than it is for violations, Phillips recognizes that Baldwin County has a lot of low-income residents who might need help with their property maintenance.
“I will work with everyone — I’m here to help people in any way I can. I follow up on people’s progress continually. If I see you are trying to make an effort on your property, I might extend your time limit, but if you think you do not have to abide by the stated codes, you will be held to all regulations, citations, and time limitations,” he said.