Catasauqua Press

Thursday, January 24, 2019

More questions on proposed ticketing ordinance

Wednesday, May 16, 2018 by PAUL CMIL Special to The Press in Local News

Council has votes to pass legislation; president would prefer a better count

Councilwoman Christine Weaver is working to get Catasauqua council members to agree on a ticketing ordinance.

Council has enough votes to pass the measure by a 4 to 3 vote. A veto by Mayor Barbara Schlegel would, however, put the measure out of reach. Council President Vincent Smith would like to see a more convincing vote from council.

The ticketing ordinance is designed to give the borough an effective way to motivate residents to keep up with maintenance items that may detract from the appearance of the borough.

“I don’t understand why this is being shoved down our throat,” Councilwoman Jessica Kroope said after council’s May 7 meeting.

What are the pros and cons of the ordinance?

An argument presented in favor of the measure is that “everyone else is doing it.” The City of Allentown used the system to get residents and tenants to clean up their yards. The ordinance is targeted at residents who take their time getting snow removed from sidewalks and skip a few weeks between yard mowings, for example.

The ticketing system works like this: Residents are given a warning about an offense and time to resolve the problem. After the initial warning, the same or similar offense generates a ticket for $25. Even when the ticket is issued, there is time to make amends. If a homeowner continues to disregard the tickets, a citation is issued. A citation requires an appearance before the magisterial district judge and brings a significantly higher cost because there are court costs and a fine.

The warning provision was added to the ordinance at council’s last meeting. Those in opposition to the ticketing ordinance suggested it. The change necessitates readvertising the measure at a cost of $1,600.

Under today’s operation, if residents do not comply with a maintenance ordinance, they are issued a citation and need to appear before the magisterial district judge. The residents get fined plus must pay court costs. The borough has to write up the citation and send the accuser to the judge for the hearing.

Police Chief Douglas Kish gave the analogy that the proposed ticketing ordinance is similar to a parking ticket. The officer could write up a citation — and will if the parking ticket is not paid. But the initial approach is to issue a ticket.

Magisterial District Judge Michael D’Amore sees the program as an alternative dispute resolution. People who believe in these programs want to see quicker resolutions.

“Deciding how to proceed and what to include is a borough decision,” D’Amore said. “Whatever the borough decides is something that we would implement in the court. We need to maintain fairness, so we can’t advocate one process above the other.”

Those in opposition to the proposed ordinance say Catasauqua is not Allentown. The demographics are different, they say, and skipping maintenance is not a problem. Habitual offenders are known, and a ticketing ordinance is not going to change their approach to maintaining their home, they added.

When asked, it was reported the number of citations issued is low.

“The number is low because we have not been pushing it for a variety of reasons,” Councilwoman Debra Mellish said.

Her response circles back to Kroope’s original lament of “why now?”

One of the reasons there are few citations is the lack of manpower. Adding additional staff to issue tickets is a concern.

If the ordinance is passed, council will no longer be involved. Those who decide to appeal the ticket need to go before the code hearing board.

A trip to the hearing board costs $500, which is a concern that has been mentioned. If council hands off the appeal process to an unelected party, such as the hearing board, council will have no way to assess if the system is working or not.

According to Kroope, the existing system is not applied uniformly.

“The biggest complaint I get is that some people get a ticket and others don’t. Depends on how well the inspector likes you,” she alleged.