May 25, 2010

Committee says no to waivers
for UNIT inspection fees

The Public Works Committee rejected a proposal to give city residents a one-time pass on UNIT violations.

The committee unanimously opposed Alderman Eric Marcus's request Tuesday night to give residents 24 hours to fix problems identified by the city's Unified Neighborhood Inspection Team. Marcus proposed residents be given a grace period once every 12 months to shovel snow or pick up garbage.

The committee, chaired by Alderman Greg Helding, opposed Marcus's waiver request, but pushed forward with the second half of his proposal. They voted unanimously to add inspection fees for all UNIT violations to the municipal code. They also asked the City Attorney's office to include an appeals process for the inspection fees in the ordinance. Marcus had an appeals process in his request.

Following the meeting, Marcus said he had reached a compromise to include the one-time waiver on in the proposal, but at the last minute the compromise fell apart. He had initially wanted to give property owners 24 hours after they receive an inspection fee to fix the problem without having to pay.

Marcus' efforts are driven by an incident in his district, on the city's near south side, last winter. Residents on Main Street and Wisconsin and College avenues received "inspection fees," essentially fines, for failing to shovel their sidewalks within 24 hours of a snow storm. However, the day after the snow temperatures dropped below zero and many people stayed inside rather than shovel. 

Marcus, who wasn't on the City Council at the time, was one of the residents who received the $50 inspection fee. He appealed the fee to Chief Building Inspector Rick Heller and got it waived. 

Now, he's trying to build leniency into the city's UNIT, which issues fees instead of citations because citations are handled in municipal court. Inspection fees don't go to court, making it more difficult for homeowners to contest them.

The committee's vote now goes to the City Council for approval. The City Attorney's office would then draft an ordinance, which will come back to the council for a vote.