By LISA MACNEIL
The Board of County Commissioners voted 4-0 to approve renaming and amending local regulations pertaining to abandoned and inoperable vehicles. BOCC Chairman Jeff Holcomb was absent from the meeting.
The new law will treat abandoned and inoperable vehicles much like the way they are currently handled by the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) when left on public roadways; the vessel will be removed 10 days after a notice “sticker” is affixed to the vessel or vehicle. Deputy County Attorney Jon Jouben explained that the state and local ordinance has also amended the language to include aircraft.
“Should you have a DC10 just lying in your yard with no landing gear we'd tow it after 10 days.”
As to what qualifies a vehicle or vessel Jouben explained that there would need to be “evidence of inoperability.” Generally, an operable vehicle will have a license plate and current registration. However, Jouben added, “You could have a valid license tag, but if there's grass growing ... through the engine blocking coming out the sides and blooming, that would override the fact that you have a valid plate.”
Amid the discussion were other hypothetical and actual cases of outliers and special cases which would somewhat be affected by the new ordinances, and others bringing questions as to whether or not the ordinance should be applied. Commissioner Wayne Dukes commented on properties known to Code Enforcement that have been homes to inoperable vehicles, however the county was powerless to do anything about it.
Chairman John Mitten advised that he too has seen properties he described as “deplorable,” but emphasized that the process for regulation should be respectful to the property owner. “there should be a good process because it is someone's homestead. But still if this provides more resources for staff and this government to be able to help the neighbors that have to live around the deplorable conditions, then this is certainly a step forward.”
County Attorney Garth Coller stated that the ordinance, “Is a balance between the rights of the private citizen, general public and neighbors.”
The ordinance has not been modified since 1971. Highlights of the new ordinance as provided to the Commission are as follows:
1. Redefines the terms used in the ordinance to more closely match those utilized by the Legislature in the Motor Vehicle Licensing Act, Fla. Stat. Ch. 320, and the Florida Lost and Abandoned Property Act, Fla. Stat. Ch. 705.
2. Provides for the removal of inoperable vessels that have been abandoned or stored on private property, a condition that the Hernando County Code currently does not address.
3. Modifies the pre-removal notice provisions for inoperable vehicles situated on private property to mirror Fla. Stat. § 705.103's pre-removal provisions for such vehicles found on public property. The only significant difference is that the proposed ordinance’s pre-removal notice period is ten days, while the statute provides for a five-day period. As a practical matter, the proposed ordinance will reduce the minimum period between a code enforcement officer’s identification of an inoperable vehicle on private property and the removal of the vehicle from the current period of 37 days to 10 days.
4. Removes the criminal punishment provisions and makes violations of the ordinance punishable before the Special Master.
5. Retains the current ordinance’s provisions making the owner of vehicle responsible for the cost of towing and any other removal expenses.
6. Specifies that Fla. Stat. § 705.103, and not the proposed ordinance, will continue to govern the HCSO’s removal of inoperable and abandoned
vehicles from public property (e.g., public roads, rights-of-way, etc.). Further, the proposed ordinance specifies that nothing therein is to be construed to restrict the HCSO’s in its exercise of any other statutory authority to remove vehicles (e.g., natural emergencies, accident scenes, etc.).