CASPER, Wyo. — The Natrona County Planning Department needs more help to identify properties with code violations and to work with landowners to fix them or turn them over to the district attorney's office when they refuse, its director said Tuesday.
"We would certainly appreciate the board's consideration of adding another qualified code enforcement officer," Gene Wallace told the commissioners at a work session.
After Wallace made his presentation, commission Chairman Ed Opella asked him for documentation in preparation for the budget discussions this spring.
Gwen Colgrove, an assistant to Planning Department code enforcement officer Wayne Laing, told commissioners their office worked on 798 cases related to public health and safety in the 2010-11 fiscal year, and 44 percent of those cases remain open.
The Planning Department also is dealing with cases dating to the 1980s, Colgrove said.
"We've been consistently understaffed since the early '70s," Wallace said.
That doesn't mean the department has been lax in enforcing the health and safety codes, because it has cleared 900 cases, he said.
The department now must address the new issue of collector-car regulations approved by commissioners in August, he said. Those regulations created a land-use category, which requires property owners in certain zoning districts to obtain conditional-use permits.
The Planning Department has been focusing more on piles of tires, too, Wallace said.
An additional officer won't fix everything, he said. "It's not correct to say we're just going to go out there and clean up the county and everything's going to be fine."
Colgrove and Wallace have begun gathering data about concentrations of code violations and code compliance and are working to integrate more population information on its geographic information system programs, he said.
Another step toward better compliance has been a shift from civil actions to taking criminal actions against violators, because the former didn't work, County Attorney Bill Knight said. "Civil enforcement is dead and broke and always has been that way."
Commissioner Bill McDowell said that after notices of violations, fruitless work with landowners and other efforts, the county now turns over misdemeanor violations — $750 per day per identified violation — to the Natrona County District Attorney's Office.
The county may consider working more with the city of Casper, too.
Casper code enforcement manager Doug Barrett and supervisor Shelly LeClere attended the work session. They and their code enforcement officer handled 17,000 incidents — calls, initial visits, follow-up visits — in about 5,000 cases, Barrett said.
Finally, two commissioners offered carrot- rather than stick-oriented suggestions to the intractable issue of code enforcement.
Rob Hendry said the county could allocate $10,000 in prize money as an incentive for residents in the unincorporated areas to clean their properties.
Terry Wingerter said the county should do more to foster pride of ownership as an incentive to improve property maintenance.
Wallace didn't like either idea, he said. "We're not here to pass out gold stars for county pride."