Tupelo gets tough on codes

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Property owners be warned: For the second consecutive year, the city will launch a summertime crackdown on common code violations.
Code enforcement officers will patrol the streets in search of junk vehicles, overgrown lawns, outside storage and a host of other infractions marring the city’s aesthetics. Violators will be warned and possibly fined. Some could even face jail time.
“We’re getting serious,” said Tupelo Development Services Department Director BJ Teal.
To help residents avoid pitfalls and potential fines, the Daily Journal will publish a series of stories highlighting the most frequent infractions. Stories will run each Monday for the next 10 weeks.
“We want to help educate the public about code issues,” Teal said. “We want them to be better informed.”
The city already passed tough, new measures this year giving code-enforcement officers the power to write tickets on the spot. Because they’re not police officers, code-enforcement officers previously couldn’t issue citations. Instead, they gave warnings and filed affidavits at Municipal Court. The court then issued citations.
The process took weeks and involved both manpower and paperwork.
Now, each officer has his or her own ticket book.
The city also hired an additional code-enforcement officer and received a commitment from the Police Department to pick up the slack on evenings and weekends when the Code Division is closed.
The push is part of Tupelo’s renewed effort to reduce blight and revitalize neighborhoods in an attempt to stabilize its middle-income population. Recent census data showed the city added almost no new residents in the past decade while other communities, especially those to the north, grew by double-digit percentage points.
Although a much-discussed Tupelo Neighborhood Reinvestment Plan failed to gain enough support, the city has enacted other, smaller measures to get the job done. In addition to the additional code-enforcement officer and across-the-board ticket writing powers, Tupelo also passed a stronger rental property ordinance.
It took effect Jan. 1 and requires mandatory inspections and annual permitting fees aimed to reduce substandard rental units and force slumlords from the city.
And, last summer, the Development Services Department launched its first summertime code-violation crackdown. It assigned all its staff members to patrol the streets and file affidavits against residential and commercial property owners alike.
Commercial owners also will be targeted this year. Among the biggest violations for them are illegal signs and junk stored outside in plain view.
Inspectors focus only on what’s visible from the street; they won’t enter properties unless they receive a specific complaint or unless it’s part of the ongoing rental license program.
Property owners who cannot financially remedy their code infractions can request help from the city. Teal said Tupelo has funds through its SNAP grant program to help qualified people obtain money for various repairs.
emily.lecoz@journalinc.com