City of Florence: Livability court next step in neighborhood improvements

BY GAVIN JACKSON Morning News | Posted: Monday, October 14, 2013 8:53 pm

FLORENCE, S.C. – A livability court is coming to Florence after city council members on Monday conditionally appointed five judges to rule and an administrator to manage the new entity that will focus on code enforcement and nuisance complaints in city neighborhoods.

The livability court will focus on nuisance and abatement issues and is modeled after the country’s first such court that was started in Charleston.

The court will strictly enforce codes such as when a neighbor’s property is overgrown or dilapidated and nuisance complaints such as noise violations – minor infractions that clog the city court system Mayor Stephen J. Wukela said.

“We’ve got a persistent problem in the neighborhoods both with abandoned property, dilapidated property, lack of infrastructure and lack of investment,” Wukela. “As you know the city has been working very diligently of late in particular with a neighborhood redevelopment program and this is part of it.”

The court will consist of an administrative judge, two associate judges and three municipal judges that will handle cases and alleviate the caseload of the city court. Wukela didn’t have a specific number of cases that go through city court, but said alone there are 2,500 dilapidated, abandoned properties that could keep the court busy.

“These livability issues are much more complex both with regard to law, but also with regard to the remedies and monitoring developments in these properties,” Wukela said. “So often you’ll perhaps have a property owner come in and say ‘well I’ll do these things’ in the city court then get lost in the shuffle; a livability judge is designed much differently.”

Rangeley Bailey was named associate judge focusing on livability issues, and Lloyd Willcox also will serve as an associate judge.

“I think it will help give residents of Florence a place to take their concerns about livability issues, noise concerns and maintenance issues and all those concerns that haven’t had a place before,” Bailey said. “And it’s all still in development but I look forward to learning about it and being a part of that and helping Florence be a better place.”

City Manager Drew Griffin said the biggest criticism to the city has been the inability to have ineffective codes enforcement.

“There’s no question this will go to the concept of restructuring of neighborhoods, absolutely that’s a big part of it,” Griffin said. “This is some basic infrastructure work that we’re trying to put into place to make the process of enforcement and changing neighborhoods more effective and more reasonably handled versus criminalizing those kinds of activities.”

The council also unanimously approved a $6.1 million bond to pay off a U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development loan the city assumed from the Town of Timmonsville when Florence assumed the town’s water and sewer system. The current federal government shutdown is however preventing action on the $12 million loan package that requires additional information and approvals.

“But our hope is that in the very near future the government will start operating again at the federal level and we’ll be able to conclude that closing,” Wukela said. “What the closing will mean is that one, the emergency funds that have been expended by the water and sewer system will be replenished by the new borrowing and that the next step of work can commence that’s non-urgent and immediate in nature all though it as all very important.”

The bond has a 1.875 percentage rate over a 40-year loan term and the mayor said it wasn’t clear if $4 million in grants would pay that balance down or go toward reducing the $12 million in loans.

Council also approved the appropriations of the $517,000 in accommodations tax; of which $354,000, or 65 percent, went to 22 organizations and $163,000, or 30 percent, went toward the Florence Convention and Visitors Bureau for advertising and promotion. Additionally $27,271 went to the general fund.

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