April 4, 2018 at 5:30 p.m.

Hope officials consider ways to make laws enforceable

By HSJ Online [email protected]

Hope town officials are interested in a new town ordinance to protect outside pets, but first they want to make sure they can put some teeth into it.

That could include returning to a town magistrate system or investigating other enforcement mechanisms.

Councilman Greg Sims had asked earlier this year for the town to consider an ordinance requiring pet owners to care for their outside pets -- protecting them from the extreme elements in the winter and summer. He suggested modeling that after a recently enacted Indianapolis ordinance.

Town Attorney Cindy Boll presented the ordinance at last week's council meeting, but ultimately council members questioned whether there was any way to make people pay the fines outlined in the ordinance -- or any of the town's laws.

"My first instinct is, is it enforceable?" Sims asked. "You would have everything legally, if we adopt it. But is it enforceable?"

For example, Town Marshal Matt Tallent said that if people don't voluntarily pay a speeding ticket issued by the town police, there is little the town can do to collect the money. Instead, the town officers would have to upgrade the citation into a state offense, which means the state collects on the fine, rather than the town.

Tallent said that the town writes tickets for people who let their animals run at large, but the only way to enforce that is by forcing payment in exchange for the police releasing the pets they have caught.

"We need something put into place to give our local ordinances some teeth, to hold people accountable," Tallent said. "Years ago, before my time, we used to have a magistrate that came in once a month and held Town Court to collect on our local ordinances."

Council President Clyde Compton suggested that the Town Council could act as a judicial body in some circumstances, and asked whether it could do so to enforce payment of town ordinances also.

"Why do we pass all these ordinances if nothing can be done about it?" Compton said. "It doesn't even make sense to me to pass one?... Why do we pass them if they can't be enforced?"

Boll was asked to investigate what it would take to return to a town court setup and said she would report back to the Town Council. She said there may also be a way to enforce town ordinances through one of the county courts.

She said small claims court cases would actually cost the town much more in fees than it would collect in fines.

The council passed the animal protection ordinance on first reading and will consider it for a second and final reading, likely at next month's Town Council meeting. A link to the full ordinance is below.

In other business before the Town Council:

Agreed to advertise for an architect to put together a feasibility study for a new town hall.

  • Adopted a supplement to the code of ordinances.

  • Heard from Fire Chief Randy Wood that the Hope Volunteer Fire Department is working with Trena Carter, the town's grant adviser from ARA, to try to secure several grants including for a new fire truck and breathing apparatus. Wood thanked the town for allowing the department to make use of Carter's resources.

  • Heard an update from Strand Associates on the Hope water system improvement project. Steve Robertson with Strand said that the work would would include complete resurfacing of many affected streets, rather than just filling in the area excavated.

  • Councilman Ohmer Miller updated the council on cyber liability insurance. He said the insurance he found would protect the town from up to $2 million in liability for cyber intrusions and the loss of personal information, at a cost of about $1,828 a year.

    "It is not so much as if you get hacked, as when you get hacked," Miller said. "There is a lot of privileged information -as far as town employees, and the utility department."

    Miller said that he would abstain from any vote on the issue, as he was bringing it before the council. He said he had also filled out a conflict of interest form. Council President Clyde Compton asked to look at recent computer security upgrade contracts and see whether there was any liability protection paid for during that process.

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