Wellington to consider raising maximum fines for code violations

The Village Council will consider raising maximum fines for code violations after approving the discussion at a workshop Monday.

A Florida statute passed about 15 years ago allows counties and municipalities with more than 50,000 residents to raise the ceiling when setting fines for code violations. Currently, Wellington’s maximum fines are $250 per day for a first violation and $500 per day for a repeat violation. If a violation is found to be “irreparable or irreversible in nature,” a maximum fine of $5,000 per violation can be levied.

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The statute allows larger cities to have maximum fines of $1,000 a day for a first offense, $5,000 a day for a second offense and $15,000 per violation for those that can’t be reversed or repaired.

According to U.S. Census estimates, Wellington had more than 64,000 residents last year.

Wellington is the only Palm Beach County municipality with a population greater than 50,000 that has not enacted the enhanced penalties, planning and zoning director Bob Basehart told the council at Monday’s workshop. The county also has adopted it, he said.

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The move would target “serial violators” of Wellington’s code, he said. “They say, ‘I’m not going to get a permit for this because the fine you’re going to charge me is really minimal to what I’m going to make if I have this event,’” Basehart said.

This is the third time the option to raise maximum fines has been presented to the village council. It has not been before the current council, but Mayor Anne Gerwig was on the council when the discussion did not make it past the workshop phase. The one time the option did go to the council, it failed, with only three members supporting the changes.

The issue requires a super-majority vote with at least four council members in favor if it is to pass. Basehart expects the first reading to happen at the council’s July 10 meeting, with the second reading Aug. 14.

Gerwig said her objection now and previously is that the maximum fines could potentially be applied to anyone, not just repeat code offenders. “It’s not specific,” she said. “… We want to be able to hit people who are just flouting, and just in your face, ‘I’m not going to follow your rules.’”

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Councilman Michael Napoleone said the maximums are just that — maximums. People who typically get $25 a day fines now still would see that amount, with the village’s special magistrates given the option to levy fines as they see fit. “If it’s something that’s egregious that needs to be corrected, then they have the ability to put more enforcement power on that person by imposing a higher fine,” he said.

Councilman John McGovern agreed, saying the village would not set any new criteria for when the maximum fine has to be used. “We’ve still left that to be wholly discretionary,” he said.

Vice Mayor Michael Drahos was in favor of moving forward with a public hearing on the changes.

Councilwoman Tanya Siskind was absent.

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