New city court will hear cases on zoning, building codes

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 11, 2002

[04/11/02]Vicksburg residents who throw trash in their yards or don’t cut their grass may soon find themselves before a new court city officials plan to establish.

Wednesday, the mayor and aldermen hired a consultant to design a “community court.” The court will hear cases involving code violations from zoning matters to building codes and will have the power to impose fines just as the existing municipal court does.

“It will allow us to have more effective teeth in enforcing our ordinances and getting our community cleaned up,” said Mayor Laurence Leyens.

The community court of Vicksburg will crank up in two months and hear misdemeanor violations of the city code twice a month. Fines can be up to $1,000.

Today, such cases can be sent to Vicksburg’s two-judge court at the Vicksburg Police Department. But that court was termed too busy.

“Right now our municipal court is handling so much that they are a month to six weeks behind,” said City Attorney Nancy Thomas.

City Building Inspector Charles James said that creating the special court will make it easier on the inspectors by giving them the ability to write tickets to people who violate the city’s building codes.

Currently, the inspection department issues letters notifying property owners of code violations and giving them 30 days. After that time, the city may do the work using tax dollars and assessing the costs in a tax lien on the property.

The process can be lengthy and requires action by the city board, ratifying that specific notice has been given and timetables followed. Once board approval is given, the city has to advertise for bids, another 30-day process, before the work, even if simply cutting the grass, can begin.

James said inspectors will probably write about 30 to 40 tickets a month for things from litter to overgrown grass rather than going through such a lengthy process. He said that fining those people through the court system would likely make them take code enforcement more seriously.

“When you hit people in the pocketbook, they tend to conform,” James said.

To set up the court, the city contracted with Nichols Planning and Consultants of Biloxi. The firm helped establish a community court there in 2001. David Nichols will be paid up to $11,970 to create a plan for starting the court here.

Leyens said that the city will appoint a separate judge from the municipal court to hear cases in the community court.

“This board’s intentions by early summer is to be issuing citations in a major way,” Leyens said.

In other matters, the city board:

Approved board meeting minutes from Feb. 19 and 22 and March 1, 4 and 8.

Presented a certificate of recognition to Rick Beers in the computer department.

Authorized the repainting of the “Welcome to Vicksburg” on the flood wall at City Front. The city will pay Robert Dafford $7,000 for the work. Dafford is the artist currently painting the second mural on the flood wall.

Received bids for uniforms and grass cutting.

Authorized a request from Cason Schaffer to put a temporary banner at the corner of Clay Street and North Frontage Road for a Civil War show at Battlefield Inn.

Allocated $13,705 to the Vicksburg Airport Authority for the remainder of the budget year.

Extended the contract for the 1999 HOME Program to May 31, 2003. The program includes the construction of 21 new homes in the Kings area.

Approved a contract with the State Fire Academy for aircraft rescue and firefighting training.

Authorized advertising for bids to cut grass at Beulah Cemetery and for demolition and site clearing of eight properties.

Approved the claims docket.

The city board will meet again at 10 a.m. Monday at City Hall Annex.