MY TURN | County’s path to address compliance

When you make a mistake, what do you do? Deny it, ignore it, or address it?

On June 4, the director of Kitsap County’s Department of Community Development publicly acknowledged to the Association of Realtors and others that he’d made a mistake. He had released an early draft of a proposed ordinance concerning code compliance to his department advisory group without full internal vetting. It wasn’t being proposed as presented, but was intended as a discussion document regarding movement of code compliance from its current methods to new ones.

We, the Board of County Commissioners, as well as the general public, have been hearing a number of comments about this early draft. It is important to note the language was never proposed as a recommended change but as an early attempt to address one of the most common complaints the County receives — the lack of enforcement for the existing development code provisions.

County code adoption requires a public process and we are committed to transparency in this public process. DCD uses an advisory group to develop code recommendations. It starts with an issue that needs resolution; in this case the code compliance system isn’t efficient or effective.

Today, people found to be noncompliant with the county’s code receive several notices. If they don’t make efforts to correct the problem, a citation is issued and the matter goes to District Court. The judge will give the individual more time. If the individual still refuses to fix the problem, the county goes through a nuisance abatement process that requires the Hearing Examiner to validate the nuisance. Once complete, the county goes to Superior Court for an injunction to abate.

What’s the cost? In 2013, 59 cases went to District Court at a departmental cost of $87,906. In 2014, after 23 years of effort, the county finally abated a dangerous structure at a cleanup cost of $60,000. There is a current case regarding the cleanup of a massive number of junk vehicles on rural properties that has taken 20 years to date and is still stalled in the court and now state law enforcement process. In the meantime, neighboring properties continue to suffer because a property owner failed to live up to their responsibilities.

Using Lean Process Improvement methodology, DCD began efforts to develop a code with a streamlined process that focuses on using voluntary compliance as a principal tool versus notices and citations.

Before this code or any other code can be enacted, the rest of the public process is required. This includes meeting with stakeholder groups and interested parties. The revisions are reviewed to make sure the proposed language makes sense, is reasonable, and practical. Currently, these meetings are occurring with a dramatically different version than the first proposed ordinance.

Once the stakeholders are finished, the code is then reviewed by the county’s legal department. Upon approval, the Board of Commissioners is briefed on the proposed language and the ordinance proceeds to the hearings process. This is noticed in the paper and posted on the county’s website. Following the hearing, the board deliberates and makes a final decision.

While there has been a great deal of angst created over a proposed ordinance related to code enforcement, very little discussion has focused on the core issue which prompted review of the current process. Property ownership is more than a set of rights, as some argue. It also comes with responsibilities that include being a good neighbor, and ensuring property is not becoming a health or nuisance hazard to immediate neighbors. When this occurs, neighbors rarely solve it between themselves. They turn to county government. If it takes years, even decades, to resolve the issue, then something is wrong with the current system. That is what the proposed code is intended to address.

Kitsap Sun Letter to the Editor Submitted by the Kitsap County Board of Commissioners

The Kitsap County Board of Commissioners is made up of Charlotte Garrido, Robert Gelder and Linda Streissguth.

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