06/10/04 — Law may turn junk car keepers into criminals

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Law may turn junk car keepers into criminals

By Matt Shaw
Published in News on June 10, 2004 2:04 PM

Wayne County residents may soon face criminal charges and fines of $50 to $100 if they refuse to get rid of junked cars.

The county is considering boosting the penalities in its junk-car ordinance to encourage people to compliance more quickly. Many people who own the junkers have found loopholes or ways to delay having to deal with them, county officials say.

The ordinance "needs more teeth," County Manager Lee Smith told the county's solid waste committee Wednesday.

The committee agreed to ask the commissioners to consider making posession of abandoned, junked and nuisance motor vehicles a criminal offense.

Then enforcement officers can give citations to people who refuse to cooperate. A judge could order fines that would at least cover the cost of the vehicles' towing and disposal.

The commissioners approved the ordinance in July 2002. Following six months' notice, the county began enforcing it in January 2003.

During the first 12 months, Joe Allen of the Sheriff's Office responded to complaints about 2,000 vehicles, he said Wednesday. Ultimately, around 200 were towed away and sold.

The problem is with the remaining 90 percent, Smith said. The junk-car owners quickly found ways to delay enforcement.

For example, people can agree to cover their vehicle, but many just pull a tarp over it, Smith said. If the tarp blows off, Allen can go and tag the vehicle again, but it takes time and requires him to keep monitoring the situation.

Also, a yard with 20 vehicles covered with tarps is no more attractive than one covered in junkers, he added. The original ordinance was aimed at both beautifying the county and removing potentially hazardous vehicles.

"We're spending money going after the same problems over and over," Smith said. "Why not react well the first time?"

By adding a criminal penalty, the county could haul uncooperative people into court. The fines would underwrite the cost of the towing program.