DOBSON — The Surry County Board of Commissioners has approved changes to the ordinance governing how the county handles run-down, hazardous structures, but officials say the changes are simply to align local laws with state code.
The action came during a board meeting last week.
During a presentation to the board on the matter, County Attorney Ed Woltz told the board that the changes are needed to reference statutory code.
“This is not to say the county is going to start going out and looking for dilapidated buildings,” he said, noting the most common way dangerous structures are identified is by someone calling and complaining. “Everything feasible will be done to work with the property owner, and there is a very high bar for these kinds of situations.
“This board isn’t going to go out and tell someone to tear down the old house on their property unless there is a serious situation. “
But given a serious situation, the ordinance has the teeth necessary to be effective.
On Friday Woltz said the purpose of the code is to protect public health and safety.
The policy procedure most commonly starts with a report from a citizen to the county’s inspections or planning department.
“We’re generally not going to be initiating an investigation, but upon receipt of a report an administrator with one of the departments will dispatch an inspector to examine the building or structure in question and file a written report that includes photo illustrations,” he said.
If the inspector deems no action is warranted, the file will be closed.
But if the inspector determines there is a dangerous or hazardous situation, a committee comprised of representatives from the inspections department, the planning department, the county commissioner in whose district the structure resides, and the fire marshal will meet on the site and inspect the property.
“The property owner will be notified and invited to the meeting,” Woltz said.
The recommendation of the committee following the inspection will then be forwarded to the administration of the planning department, who will review the recommendations and determine whether the structure presents a dangerous or hazardous situation for the public.
“If it does, he will then notify the property owner of a hearing to be conducted before the director of inspections,” said the county attorney.
The property owner can appear at the hearing, or be represented through counsel.
If the situation is deemed hazardous and/or dangerous by the director of inspections, he will then issue a notice of condemnation, ordering the property owner to repair the property, make it safe, or tear it down.
“The order telling the property owner to close, vacate, repair or demolish the property must be completed within 60 days of receiving the order,” Woltz said.
The property owner has the right to appeal the notice of condemnation to the board of commissioners, but the notification of appeal must be filed with the clerk to the board within 10 days of receipt of the order.
“The board of commissioners can either affirm or overturn the order,” said Woltz.
Criminal Charges on the Table
But if the property owner receives the order to repair or demolish the property and fails to appeal to the board of commissioners within 10 days, the county inspections department can proceed with having the property owner charged with a misdemeanor for violation of the policy, the county attorney said.
And possible penalties don’t stop there.
“If the property is deemed dangerous or prejudicial to the health and safety of the public, the county can proceed with removing the nuisance itself under the existing policy for Abatement of Public Health Nuisances, as authorized by state code,” Wolts said.
He noted that every effort will be made to give the property owner an opportunity to rectify the situation.
“If he won’t do it, or can’t do it, the county can take care of the nuisance and bill the property owner for all associated costs,” he said.
If that happens, the abatement costs will be treated “in the same manner as a tax bill, and can be enforced in the same manner as a bill for delinquent taxes,” Woltz said.
But that will be a very last resort, the attorney promised.
“It’s certainly not going to be used frivolously,” he said. “It’s important to note that these policies are only going to be utilized upon receipt of a complaint. For it to be applicable, it will have to be deemed a condition that is dangerous and prejudicial to public health and safety.”
Reach Keith Strange at email@example.com or 719-1929.