LCI Chief Promises Fine Fix

Melissa Bailey File PhotoFor over a year, lawmakers have been asking city anti-blight chief Erik Johnson why his department doesn’t issue fines when people don’t shovel their sidewalks. This week Johnson offered a new answer: It’s the DPW’s fault.

Johnson, who was testifying in front of the Board of Alders Finance Committee Wednesday night, said his department, the Livable City Initiative (LCI), has stopped issuing fines for violations of public space requirements, like not shoveling snow off your sidewalk.

Thomas MacMillan PhotoThere’s no point in issuing such fines, Johnson (pictured) said, because the Department of Public Works (DPW) is in charge of adjudicating them—collecting the fines and dealing with appeals. Public works, according to Johnson, has said that it doesn’t have the manpower to handle its end of the process. So, why bother issuing them?

Johnson said he’s in the process of drafting a proposed ordinance amendment that would solve the problem by transferring the fine-adjudication responsibility from DPW to Transportation, Traffic and Parking.

The LCI chief made those remarks during a marathon budget hearing Wednesday evening. The Finance Committee is examining the mayor’s proposed $511 million budget for the coming fiscal year. Johnson was one of a line of department heads who sat to testify about the work their staff do for the city.

The question of LCI-fine collection has been open since at least last budget season. At a hearing in April 2013, East Rock Alder Jessica Holmes asked Johnson why it had collected no fine payments, despite issuing $77,000 worth of citations between July 2012 and March 2013.

LCI’s public-space fines can cover unmowed grass and illegal dumping, but in practice they are mostly related to unshoveled snow, Johnson said. The fines are separate from more serious fines stemming from LCI’s residential licensing program and its anti-blight actions, which can result in property liens. (LCI has been issuing those fines.)

Last year, Johnson called the absence of fine-collection a matter of manpower. His department lacks the resources to go after scofflaws, he said.

When Mayor Toni Harp submitted her proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2014-15, Holmes immediately noticed that LCI’s projected revenue for ticket collections had gone from $50,000 in 2013-14 to zero in 2014-15.

On Wednesday evening, Holmes asked again: Did LCI collect any money from uncleared-sidewalk fines?

No, said Johnson. LCI didn’t even issue any.

“This is going to sound like a flip answer,” Johnson said. “It’s not intended to be.” He said that the public space inspectors used to work out of the Department of Public Works. Those positions were transferred to LCI from DPW, but “the ticket adjudication process still sits there.” DPW says it doesn’t have time to pursue fines, Johnson said.

DPW Chief Doug Arndt told the Independent Friday that DPW doesn’t have the manpower to “process multiple amounts of citations and appeals.” The department’s staff has fallen from 160 to under 120 over the years, Arndt said. “That impact has affected our ability to process this stuff internally.”

“We are going to propose to change the ordinance and propose adjudicating runs through Transportation, Traffic and Parking, like parking ticket adjudication,” Johnson said. He said he hopes to have a new process in place by the fall, before snow starts falling.

“I’m surprised that it has taken this long” to figure out this problem, said Holmes. “If it’s not fixed by next snow season, I’ll draft an amendment.”

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posted by: THREEFIFTHS on May 2, 2014  1:29pm

How about a fine for the city for not clearing the streets.

posted by: cupojoe on May 2, 2014  1:40pm

How about a volunteer board to process appeals and neighborhood management teams can find people to issue? I mean, doah: snow on sidewalk? Time limit up? Issue ticket.

posted by: Shaggybob on May 2, 2014  2:54pm

I agree with 3/

What about entities like the Housing Authority that routinely throw snow back into the street and private contractors (some hired by the City) who routinely plow parking lots, driveways etc.. and then pile the snow on streets.

Doesn’t seem like rocket science to find a fix, they found a way to enforce parking tickets and boot cars. An Ordinance is an Ordinance.

Typical New Haven to make a rule with no repercussions and then blame another department.

posted by: Gretchen Pritchard on May 2, 2014  4:25pm

Just don’t do what they do in Montreal, where it is not the citizens’ job to clear the sidewalks, but rather, the city’s. 

We were there right after Christmas 2013, and there was a record snowfall, and the city couldn’t do all the sidewalks at once.  But although people shoveled their front walks, nobody, NOBODY lifted a finger to clear the sidewalks.  Instead, everybody just walked on them through the deep snow, and within half a day it got compacted down into the most impossibly hazardous and annoying icy bumpy mess, making the city’s job that much harder. 

I suppose since so much of Montreal city life is in their underground malls anyway, people just don’t care?  But meanwhile the local radio station (which we listened to while stuck in traffic waiting to cross the border back into the US) was one long call-in show about how rotten the city services were and what a huge FAIL it was that the sidewalks were such a mess.

Yikes!  I’ll take New Haven’s dysfunction over that particular one.

posted by: anonymous on May 2, 2014  4:39pm

Let’s hope there are a lot more tickets for this issued next winter. 

It’s ridiculous that the city hasn’t been able to figure this out previously - how many of our residents have been hospitalized and permanently injured because of the city’s failure to enforce basic standards of public safety?

posted by: darnell on May 2, 2014  5:52pm

Why is the government always trying to make a mountain out a snowhill. Give me a break, it takes the city forever to clear my street, in the mean time, I shovel out my driveway and sidewalk, only to have a city plow come around and push it back onto my property. And now you want to hire some connected smuck to come and give me a ticket. PLEASE. Find something else to do with my taxes other than finding other ways to tax me.

posted by: Brian V on May 2, 2014  10:15pm

I have to walk my kids in the street to get them to and from school, because some neighbors wont touch the snow on their sidewalks, these same people do find a way to clear their driveways though. Issue the tickets and collect on them too!

posted by: fastdriver on May 2, 2014  10:55pm

This is going to be VERY interesting! Can’t wait to see what happens with a particular house in my neighborhood that has had a real estate sign hanging there for years. The house is empty. The front window is broken and leaves are piled knee high in areas. Only recently was a broken down pool and trampoline removed from the property. It is definitely an eyesore and I would say falls into the category of blight as evidenced in Sec. 9-51. - Anti-blight and property maintenance ordinance.

I have complained about it, but was told by the LCI rep for our area- “things take time”! How long? When the property values of the whole neighborhood are affected? Why have laws/ordinances if they’re not going to be enforced?

posted by: robn on May 3, 2014  10:49am

The answer to the staff problem is temporary deputization.

posted by: Noteworthy on May 3, 2014  4:22pm

Here’s my solution: Fold LCI into the building department and fire the department head who can’t see the problem, fix the problem and needs constant mothering to arrive at a workable solution. Could it be LCI really didn’t want to handle the appeals and was hoping it would go away? Probably. What about the fines for other issues? Are they issuing tickets for anything?

posted by: fk on May 4, 2014  9:49am

This explains why LCI has been unable to get the owner of the Star supply property to maintain the tree line there.  This is absurd and they should have done something about this long ago!
LCI is supposed to be responsible for anti blight in this city and if they have no way to enforce their ordinance they have no reason to exist.  This is the equivalent of having police that do not have the authority to arrest anybody.  Maybe we should give the authority to arrest people to the DPW as well.

posted by: fk on May 4, 2014  10:20am

One question remains.  Why did LCI stop issuing tickets?  I don’t think that most people knew that they couldn’t collect on them and it seems that even though they couldn’t collect, the threat of penalty was getting most of the people to do the right thing. 
Now the cat is out of the bag and everybody knows that they don’t have to do anything.  Nice job LCI.

posted by: Sean on May 4, 2014  6:18pm

It is ridiculous that LCI does not issue fines and does not collect when they do issue them.  I know East Rock might not get so much illegal dumping, but it is rampant around the city.  Where are the fines going to tenants or to landlords for dumping in their own backyards?  At least put them on notice.  Ridiculous.

Seems like upholding the law could be a money earner for the city.  If only we needed the money! Oh wait, we do.