MADEIRA BEACH — If it takes kicking a few people out of town or levying huge fines on property owners, that is what officials and residents appear ready to do to make their city livable.
The problem has gotten worse over the years, according to Mayor Travis Palladeno, resulting in deteriorating properties and an influx of criminals.
"We do not want to be a police state. That is not what we are trying to do here," Palladeno told residents at a City Commission workshop last week. "I wish it were a perfect world, but we have to figure out something because it is getting out of control."
The proposed solution is a new, tougher nuisance ordinance that would let city officials cite and force property owners to appear before a special magistrate to answer charges as serious as tenants involved in criminal activities to eyesores of overgrown lawns or junk cars.
Last week, the commission debated the proposed ordinance and listened to resident complaints for more than three hours.
City Attorney Tom Trask, who wrote the proposed nuisance ordinance, said current codes take too long to enforce and do not give the city the power to address many situations, including crime.
The new rules would let the city fine property owners up to $250 a day for an initial violation and up to $500 a day for repeat violations.
Residents sharply criticized what they perceived as past failures by the city to enforce codes already on the books.
"It seems to be common knowledge that Madeira Beach is where the drunks and drug addicts come to play, work and make a little money," said resident Tom Poe.
He cited the city's many cheap rentals and empty houses as "real breeding grounds for trouble."
Trask said the ordinance would let the city force landlords to evict tenants who are repeatedly involved in crime.
"The city has no ability to control who rents a house," Trask said, but can act if it can show "continuous illegal activity."
Residents living along 144th and 145th avenues complained about constant traffic from people coming into their neighborhood to buy drugs.
Palladeno and Trask urged them to call the Sheriff's Office each time they see criminal activity.
"That is how we build a case," Trask said.
Other residents complained about derelict vehicles, tall grass, and landlords who do not keep their structures up to code.
Trask strongly defended his draft ordinance, despite sharp criticism from resident Joe Jorgensen and former City Manager Jim Madden.
"I don't need to take a second look at it. I am comfortable with the way it reads," Trask said, citing his 25 years experience dealing with municipal code enforcement issues. He urged the commission to schedule formal hearings and a vote.
Interim City Manager and Fire Chief Bill Mallory's efforts to enforce codes also was criticized.
"Please, please if you are going to pass an ordinance, put somebody here that is going to enforce it and not come up with excuses," Jorgensen said.
Mallory repeatedly explained that current city laws do not give him the ability to stop certain behaviors.
He also said he is in the final process of hiring a code enforcement officer who should be on board within the next few weeks.
At the end of the discussion, the audience applauded Palladeno as he urged the commission to act.
"I cannot do anything about the past," Palladeno said. "All we can do is start tonight and move forward."
The commission agreed and will formally consider Trask's proposed ordinance at meetings scheduled for Oct. 25 and Nov. 8.