02/07/13 — Mount Olive simplifies civil penalty law

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Mount Olive simplifies civil penalty law

By Josh Ellerbrock
Published in News on February 7, 2013 1:46 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- The passing of a uniform civil penalty code by the Mount Olive Board of Commissioners has given Mount Olive police a much simpler weapon in enforcing town laws.

The resolution was one of three recommendations by the town planning board that the town board considered at its meeting Monday night.

Right now, there are almost a dozen different instances on the town books that allow the town to issue civil penalties if someone breaks a town ordinance.

"If you got someone that's violating your town code, you can either, if the statute allows you to do it, you can charge them with a criminal offense, drag them into this courtroom, try them, embarrass them, and they have to pay court costs. And the town of Mount Olive might not get three dollars of facilities fees or court costs for use of the courtroom," said Town Attorney Carroll Turner. "If we go the route of a civil penalty, whatever is accessed owed, the money comes to the town of Mount Olive. They don't have to come to court, but if they don't pay the civil penalty, a lien goes against their property. And that's a fairly powerful thing."

A lien, or legal encumbrance, makes it impossible for a property owner to sell a property without paying off debts.

"(Town inspector Danny Keel and Mount Olive police) would have the option of citing them to district court or they could issue them a civil penalty. If that doesn't seem to get their attention, they can go ahead and charge them and go to court," Turner said.

"It doesn't take away what Danny or the police department currently has, but it gives them another option," he said.

Civil penalties are currently written into the law, and they have been used before to get people to follow town code. The resolution passed by the board just makes it easier for enforcing agencies to use civil penalties by making the town's civil penalty law uniform, officials said.

The second recommendation said that any person who currently leases a property in the town of Mount Olive is required to obtain permission of the property owner before requesting a zone recommendation and was passed with little discussion.

The third recommendation gave Town Inspector Danny Keel more flexibility when issuing town permits. The board denied the recommendation because board members agreed that any permit that may cause controversy should be the board's responsibility and that the people should have a say in the issuance of the permit.

"It takes going through the process, and that's not always bad" said Commissioner George Fulghum.