SIKESTON - After hearing additional concerns from citizens during an hour-long discussion, Sikeston City Council members voted 6-1 to adopt a "no tolerance" amendment to the city's Property Maintenance Code.
The bill putting the amendment into effect was read for the second time and approved during the regular Sikeston City Council meeting Monday. Councilman Michael Harris entered the only vote in opposition to the changes.
The amendment includes stricter penalties including the possibility of a $500 fine or jail time for junk and trash, junk motor vehicles, and tall grass and weed violations, "the goal being zero tolerance," said Doug Friend, city manager.
The amendment calls for both landlords and renters to be cited for violations and appear at the same time before the judge, although they may receive different penalties.
Friend said a line item will be set aside in the budget to cover any additional costs.
Structural issues will receive written notification to initiate a dialogue with the city regarding the owner's intentions for the house, Friend said.
Most of the citizen criticism of the bill at its first reading was focused on the change making it unlawful to keep an unregistered vehicle outside of a garage.
"Since that time it has been amended," said Charles Leible, city counselor. "This now allows that you can have one unlicensed, unregistered vehicle not in a state of disrepair, but not for more than six months."
A car observed in violation will first be posted. The owner will then have seven days to license or remove the car before it is towed and a summons issued to the owner. "There's no warning," Friend said.
Citizens present at Monday's meeting repeated concerns about the car amendment even with six-month grace period as well the "no tolerance" stance being implemented.
"Will everybody understand by May 5? I certainly doubt it. Will they understand by June 5? I bet they will," Friend said. He said the main targets are those "who, for some reason, pile their trash in their yards instead of in a can at the curb."
"We're trying to clean up the town and this is a step in the right direction," Mayor Mike Marshall said.
In response to a plea for notifications and more time for landlords to address problems, Marshall said there is responsibility that goes along with being a landlord.
"This ordinance is the notification that the city is not going to be the property manager for thousands of parcels of rental property," Marshall said.
"The court is going to be overwhelmed," predicted one resident. "I don't think we can ever have 'zero tolerance' because they will always be mitigating circumstances."
"If it takes crowded courts and the judge working overtime, then that's the way it's going to be," said Marshall. He said Council members realize the amendment will cause friction, "but we're not going to sit around and let the city deteriorate."
Monroe Davis, a resident and minister, said heis helping people who aren't able to haul junk, but there are many more. "This is going to be hard on a lot of people," he said, and commented on the low wages earned by many on west end of town.
"It doesn't take a lot of money to keep your property clean," countered Councilman Jerry Pullen.
Asked by Councilman Jim Terrell, Ward 2, to comment on the ordinance, City Prosecutor Dan Norton said the city has had something close to a zero-tolerance policy in effect for about two years, "so it's not something that just crept up."
The two items that he sees the most of in court are citations for tall grass and weeds and trash and junk in the yard. Instead of putting trash bags in cans by the curb so dogs won't get into it, Norton said it often looks as if people "put a slit in the bottom and sling it around."