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Cuts to Hernando County code enforcement services can do more harm than good

This is what you see in a quick drive around Monty Shultes' residential neighborhood in southern Spring Hill:

A man running what appears to be a home auto shop, with a free-standing, two-bay garage, often with disassembled cars in the driveway; another driveway adorned with a 1970s-era muscle car on jacks; a house where a plumber parks his marked work van in the evenings next to a trailer loaded with debris.

Then there's the home of Richard Weedon, who admittedly moved his business, Richard's Cleaning and Property Management LLC, to his year-old home on Matthew Avenue, across the street from Shultes'. He had a 1-acre lot, big enough to park work trucks and store equipment, as well as a privacy fence to keep it all out of view.

But due to the complaints of neighbors — especially Shultes, who said work trucks were (and still are) pulling up to the house regularly, and who contacted Hernando County Code Enforcement Services a total of 14 times — Weedon said he recently moved to an office that costs him $1,000 a month in rent.

"That's money that could go to other things,'' Weedon said. "It's a shame.''

Maybe you agree. Maybe you think self-appointed watchdogs such as Shultes need to realize there are more important things in life than what county code has to say about the canvas canopy over a neighbor's car.

But little things add up.

That's really the principle behind code enforcement. And that's why it's a bad idea to make further cuts to the unit. The cuts have been in the works for months, though the County Commission is looking at ways to avoid them. Hopefully, commissioners can, because as things stand now, the number of officers covering the county's 400 square miles would be reduced from five to four. That's half the number of a few years ago. And to make their jobs somewhat manageable, the county will stop or relax enforcement of 15 existing rules.

Mind you, codes aren't deed restrictions. The entire county isn't supposed to be as tightly policed as Timber Pines. There's nothing preventing the plumber from parking his work van in his driveway, nor, probably, should there be. The guy with the two-bay garage might just be a car nut, said code enforcement supervisor Robert Stone. Even home businesses are allowed as long as they don't have visible signs or equipment, or generate excessive traffic.

But if you zoom out from Shultes' house in one of the newer, more upscale sections of Spring Hill, you'll see some older, tattered neighborhoods where idle, unlicensed cars and hip-high grass are epidemic.

What if you live next to one of these houses and, just to make your life completely miserable, your neighbors crank their stereo at all hours? Don't bother calling code enforcement. The office won't have enough officers to do anything; it also plans to stop mowing the lawns of abandoned houses.

I hate to use the word "slum,'' but for some parts of Spring Hill, it's starting to fit. It's hard to imagine anyone paying a decent price for a house in these neighborhoods, or a business owner thinking this would be a great community in which to invest.

Cuts have consequences, whether it's to code enforcement or any of the other services that might be slashed this year, and, almost certainly, next year. We'll pay eventually.

As Clerk of Court Karen Nicolai, the county's chief financial officer, said this week, "all the easy stuff is gone.'' All the fat, in other words, and what is now being cut is bone and muscle. This includes essential services such as human resources and information technology.

As I was driving back to the office from the Shultes' house, I saw a bumper sticker that said: "T.E.A. — Taxed Enough Already.''

Not really, I thought. Not quite.

Cuts to Hernando County code enforcement services can do more harm than good 09/02/10 [Last modified: Thursday, September 2, 2010 8:29pm]
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