The City of Winchester’s municipal court system has been working to bring property into code compliance. The court system held its first session in June, and according to Mayor Rex McIntire, has been very successful in cleaning up properties: “We’ve had issues for years [with unkempt properties], and every town does. There are people that just don’t care, and they just won’t take care of their property. It makes everyone around them unhappy. City Attorney John Paul Coonrod came up with a plan to expedite getting these things done without going through the county court system, and we do it right here in house.”
Coonrod says that the process is helping speed up compliance: “There are three main components to it. The first component would just be the city’s efforts at gaining informal compliance from city residents who are in violation of say weeds too tall in the yard, debris in the yard, or a junk car in the yard. The city has an ordinance enforcement officer that makes a point of going out and talking with folks that own the property in order to try and get them under voluntary compliance – move the car, cut the grass. That has worked somewhat in the past, but it works best when it is coupled with the second component of what we are doing here – the actual creation of our municipal court. The fact that now we can send out a citation and people have to show up what is in effect, a court of law three weeks later and face a real possibility of fines. It has increased voluntary compliance greatly.”
Coonrod says that now when the city compliance officer shows up and threatens a citation, the property owner takes action and a citation doesn’t even have to occur; or prior to their day in court, the property owner cleans up the issue.
Coonrod said that of the 4 properties that were called before the court in June, all four cases were dismissed because the property owner had complied with the clean up requests. Coonrod says approximately 10-13 properties are due in court this month.
Coonrod says the third component to compliance comes from the state. He says that Comptroller Suzanna Mendoza’s mandate that fines owed to a municipality can be taken directly out of a person Illinois State tax return refund: “A lot of people really count on that refund. If they are also people who have garbage or an inoperable vehicle in their front yard, it is precisely the mechanism we want to make them just think twice and put a little bit more effort in keeping their property clean and being a good neighbor.”
The court has helped saved the city approximately $2,000 per hearing in the county’s circuit court system. While saving the city money, Coonrod says its ultimately about getting people to reflect a good image of the city and being a good neighbor.
Coonrod says he has had talks with the Village of Bluffs in recent weeks to possibly bring them into a similar municipal court agreement to help save both municipalities money in the future. He said the decision is up to the village board and an ordinance would have to be past, similar to the City of Winchester’s ordinance.