OKEECHOBEE – A code enforcement fine that added up to more than $1 million on a property valued less than $20,000 sparked discussion at the April 8 meeting of the Okeechobee County Commission. Six requests for reduction in code enforcement fines were on the consent agenda for the meeting.
Brandon Tucker, chairman of the Economic Council, started by complimenting the county’s code enforcement staff. “We are making incremental steps in the 5 year goal of being the best small town in Florida,” said Tucker.
“If we’re asking for fine reductions, those properties have been brought into compliance,” he said. “When you are considering fine reductions, we want to make sure we are covering the county’s expenses, the taxpayers expenses.”
“It’s one thing to reduce the cost for some people, but at the end of the day if we are out there doing a lot of work and we’re not recouping our costs, this is meaningless to me,” said Commission Chair Terry Burroughs.
More strict enforcement action should be built into the process before the fines exceed the value of the property, advised County Attorney Wade Vose. The county needs to deal with the code enforcement issues before the fines build up so high.
“Letting it get into $1 million is funny money,” he said. “It’s way more than the property is worth. It causes the neighborhood to suffer because no one can afford to buy it and pay the fine.”
“We should at least get our money back for what we spend,” said Commissioner Brad Goodbread.
“We need to understand how much we have in the game – how much time is spent times our labor rate so we understand how much of the tax payers money we are spending,” said Burroughs. “At minimum we should recoup our costs. If the magistrate want to reduce a fine, it needs to be our cost.”
“Sometimes you have somebody just sticking their finger in the county’s eye because they can,” said Goodbread.
“The best way to deal with it is to deal with it quickly,” said Vose. He said the property owners are making no effort to correct code violations, the county could wait the minimum time and proceed with foreclosure.
Six requests for reduction in code enforcement fines were approved as part of the consent agenda at the April 8 meeting.
• The Special Magistrate recommended a fine reduction for the 18830 N.W. 301st Street property owned by Robert W. Skinner from $69,375 to $2,500. On Jan, 18, 2017, an administrative fine was assessed against Skinner, in the amount of $75 per day for a code violation. Skinner requested reduction of a lien at a hearing before the Special Magistrate who heard testimony under oath of Code Enforcement Officer Beth Albert and testimony from related to case. At the conclusion of the presentation of case, both parties agreed a reduction in the amount of the accrued fine and lien was in the best interest of the county.
• The Special Magistrate recommended the county reduce the lien on the 3252 N.W. First Street property owned by Joaquin Dominguez from $4,400.00 to $1,500. On Sept. 17, 2019, an administrative fine was assessed against Dominguez in the amount of $30 per day for a code violation.
• The Special Magistrate recommended the county reduce the lien on 965 NE 64th Avenue property owned by MADD Assets LL $1,214,500 to $250. At the time a $250 per day lien was imposed on Nov. 20, 2007, the property was owned by Georgia Marshall. MADD Assets, LLC acquired the property by tax deed on Nov. 5, 2020. There is also a pending foreclosure case regarding this property with a recorded judgment in the amount of $5,000. The foreclosure sale of the property was put “on hold” pending resolution of the lien reduction case. MADD Assets LLC has or had a pending sale of the property for approximately $18,000. Dismissal of the foreclosure case and satisfaction of judgment is needed as well as a release of lien to clear title prior to sale.
• The Special Magistrate has recommended the county reduce the lien on the 3189 NW 74th Terrace property owned by MADD Assets LLC, from $49,175 to $500. At the time the $25 per day fine was imposed on Feb. 15, 2005 the property was owned by David Hunter. MADD Assets, LLC acquired the property by tax deed on Nov. 5, 2020.
• The Special Magistrate has recommended the county reduce the lien on the 2219 SE 40th Avenue property owned by MADD Assets LLC from $135,200 to $500. On Aug. 21, 2013, when the $50 per day fine was imposed, the property was owned by Howard F. Haight and Heather L. Fisher. MADD Assets, LLC acquired the property by tax deed on Nov. 5, 2020.
• The Special Magistrate has recommended the county reduce the lien on the 16605 N.W. 32nd Ave. property owned by M5 Investments LCC from $39,500 to $2,500. The $25 per day fine was imposed on June 21, 2016, when the property was owned by Teryl L. Mateo.