MADEIRA BEACH – Following months of discussion and adjustment, the Madeira Beach City Commission passed one of the nation’s toughest ordinances dealing with chronic nuisance properties.
Though the law covers all retail and commercial businesses, the main intent is to target property owners and managers who continually rent to persons engaging in criminal activities.
“We are interested in properties where there have been arrests,” said Neighborhood Watch leader Elaine Poe, who pushed for the ordinance and helped shape its content.
“We want to target landlords who keep renting to these people time after time,” said Poe. “We have to stop this and give the message that we don’t want these people in our communities.”
Properties where three or more nuisance activities occur within a 30-day period or seven or more within a six-month period are judged to be nuisance properties. Alcoholic beverage establishments and retail/commercial businesses have a more lenient requirement of five or more nuisance activities within 30 days or 20 or more within six months.
The commission gave its final approval to the nuisance ordinance at a special meeting held prior to the Oct. 23 commission workshop. A major change in code enforcement personnel also was made.
Signaling the law’s tough intent, the city’s code enforcement official will be a member of the police force hired by the Sheriff’s Office and reporting to the community policing officer.
That action was agreed to by the commission after City Manager Shane Crawford said the current code enforcement person was facing situations too dangerous for her to handle.
“I always send a deputy with her and I can’t continue to do that,” he said.
Crawford said he proposed the idea to the Sheriff’s Office of having the city’s code enforcement handled by deputies and was told “We don’t do that anywhere else.” But Sheriff Bob Gualtieri later called him back and “immediately agreed,” Crawford said.
Police involvement in code enforcement is needed with the nuisance ordinance in place because “you get to a certain level and you need a gun and a badge to handle things,” Crawford said.
The downside of that arrangement, Crawford said, is “if your grass needs cutting, the police will show up to cite you.”
Having the deputies do code enforcement also will be more expensive, raising the cost from $55,000 to about $90,000 a year.
But Crawford told the commission, “This is one of those things we have to put in the hands of experts. All things considered, it’s a little more expensive, but we need an officer doing this right out of the gate.”
Having an extra deputy in the city also would aid law enforcement and make the city safer, Crawford said.
“We’ll have another officer going around eight hours a day,” he said. “We’ll let them do their thing and enforce the ordinance. You can’t do any better than that.”
But Joe Jorgensen, president of TRS Realty Inc. a tourist property rental firm, called the nuisance ordinance and enforcement procedure an overkill.
“You don’t need a bazooka to kill a flea,” he said.
Jorgensen said the city has sufficient ordinances already to deal with the problems but they are not being enforced. He said no cases have been brought before the city’s special magistrate in over a year.