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Newport cleans house with distressed properties ordinance

The city of Newport is taking a more proactive approach to addressing problem properties with a more enforceable nuisance ordinance.

Earlier this year, discussion of blighted residential properties resurfaced after several homeowners, particularly in the 500 block of Fourth Street, complained of a lack of citations given to violators.

The Newport City Council discussed an amendment to its current nuisance code earlier this month and preliminarily approved language that made a second violation finable with a graduated system of fines and jail time following. However, City Council member Bill Sumner expressed his concern that the stricter language would create a “vigilante-style of policing.”

City Attorney Fritz Knaak came back with a relaxed version of the ordinance amendment. Despite the “pushed back” approach, Knaak said it better addresses the chronic offenders.

A property owner who commits more than two violations in one year, three violations in two years or four violations in three years will be deemed a chronic, aggregated or repeated nuisance violator and subject to the graduated fines.

“Essentially three strikes you’re out,” City Administrator Deb Hill said.

The first violation is often remedied by a warning and/or a nominal fee. The second violation brings a violation and fee, but the third is when property owners would be subject to the new ordinance.

“After the third time that’s when you can say you’re dealing with a chronic offender,” Knaak said.

A homeowner who is reported for a third property violation within one year of a prior conviction will face a fine of no less than $500.

Committing a fourth violation within two years of three prior convictions will again see a fine of no less than a $750 fine.

And a person convicted of a fifth violation within three years of four prior convictions can anticipate no less than a $900 fine.

All three infractions carry 90 days in jail.

Knaak said a warning will still be used as the initial remedy but the ordinance in place will guarantee chronic offenses are addressed.

Sumner, who voted against the ordinance amendment last week, again said he was uncomfortable with the language, adding that the “draconian measures” would make some residents targets.

“I’m concerned this is an overreaction to a minor problem in the world, a problem that may not be as broad,” he said.

Council member Tom Ingemann, who also voted against the ordinance amendment last week, suggested the city re-examine what is considered a nuisance to better target language toward chronic violators.

“We have to remember here that the strategy of this ordinance is to improve the image of Newport,” council member Tracy Rahm said, “and get the properties that have code violations cleaned up and apply it equally to attract more economic development.”