The Department of Public Works is about to start cracking down on neighborhood blight and code violations by putting some teeth into the city-parish’s 2-year-old litter court program.
That means offenders could end up having to pay more to have the city-parish clean up their properties than what it would cost to fix the problems themselves, said Acting DPW Director William Daniel.
Litter Court kicked off in August 2009 out of the Mayor-President’s Office to target trash and debris, overgrown weeds and grass, swimming pools that are neglected or unfenced, illegal signs and garbage bins that are left on the curb for too long.
The idea was for city-parish workers to identify violations, then the offenders would get letters informing them of the problems and giving them a Litter Court hearing date.
An offender has 15 days to address the violation, but failure to do so results in assessment of a $117 fine.
The program’s concept has been popular among constituents who can now alert the city-parish of troublesome neighbors.
But the problem, Daniel said, has been that there was no way to ensure that someone found guilty ever cleaned up his property.
“They show up to Litter Court, they say they’re going to clean it up and then they never clean it up,” Daniel said. “We’ve had trouble getting out there to clean it up for them because we’ve never really had a budget item for us to put manpower on it.”
He said there is a backlog of 300 to 400 infractions that need to be addressed.
“It’s a frustrating thing for the community if an individual is found guilty and decides not to make the repairs,” said Councilwoman Tara Wicker.
But now, the effort is being reorganized and streamlined under DPW.
Daniel said at least seven workers have been reassigned from the Office of Neighborhood Development to oversee the administrative functions of Litter Court.
He also said a DPW crew will be assigned to do any needed cleanup work.
Taking first priority will be swimming pool violations because they pose the greatest danger, Daniel said.
He said there are at least 11 swimming pool violation cases across the parish in which homeowners have been found guilty but failed to address the problem.
Daniel said his crews would drain the pools and then fill them with sand.
The cost of the materials and manpower to correct the violations will be sent to the Tax Assessor’s Office and put on the homeowner’s property tax bill.
The only funding allocated to the program is about $5,500 a month paid to ATS Inc., which puts violation citations in the mail, schedules court dates, and sends out judgments.
Daniel said he doesn’t expect additional funding for the program, so he’ll be sharing resources with DPW and trying to make the program more efficient.
He said he’s negotiated a deal to suspend payments temporarily to ATS while the program is reevaluated.
DPW also is working with the company to develop software to streamline the process and make it more efficient.
Councilman Joel Boé said residents in his district often report neighbors who allow junk such as broken-down vehicles to collect on their properties.
“It’s basic maintenance of a property,” he said. “There will be a carport full of junk and trash for months and months and sometimes years at a time.”
He also said there are several repeat offenders in his district, and added that he would like to see penalties handed out to chronic offenders.
Daniel said the program is generally successful, given that about 60 percent of residents cited clean up their properties after the first notice.
“If they don’t want to do it, we’re going to do it reluctantly for them,” Daniel said. “We obviously have better things to be doing than cleaning up people’s property, but you can’t have pride in your city if it’s all littered up.”