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Brooksville council gives initial approval to vehicle impoundment ordinance

BROOKSVILLE — After being rejected in his first attempt, Brooksville police Chief George Turner received tentative approval from the City Council for his revised vehicle impoundment ordinance.

Council members unanimously agreed to approve Turner's measure on its first reading Monday night, with the final reading set for July 20.

Previously, the ordinance would have allowed for the immediate impoundment of any vehicle found in violation of the city's noise ordinance or illegally parked in a handicapped zone. Now, the measure allows for seizure only after a second offense.

"I think I answered all of the council's concerns," Turner said. "No one will have their car impounded for a first offense."

Turner initially designed the law after a similar zero-tolerance ordinance passed last year in Sarasota. Within the first six months, Sarasota's ordinance resulted in the seizure of 11 vehicles and the issuance of 60 citations.

But Turner's measure met significant disapproval when he presented it to the council on May 18.

Mayor Joe Bernardini called the ordinance vague and misleading. Council member David Pugh said impoundment on a first violation was too harsh, particularly for people who parked in handicapped spaces.

"I know it's an issue and that some people abuse it," Pugh said. "But if someone is handicapped and don't have their placard that day, I want to make sure they don't come back and find their car gone. The law needed a little more compassion."

The revised ordinance calls for the towing of a vehicle found violating the city's code prohibiting loud music. To get the vehicle back, the owner would have five days to request a preliminary hearing before a hearing officer. A city representative would be appointed to determine whether there was a legitimate reason to seize the car.

If the officer decides there was probable cause, or the hearing is waived, then the car would stay impounded until the case is resolved. However, the owner gets the option of posting a cash bond to release the car until a final disposition is reached.

A final hearing before the master would decide the ultimate outcome. If the officer sides with the police, the car would remain impounded until the civil penalty is paid. If the car owner wins, that person would get the car back and wouldn't have to pay any fees associated with the vehicle's seizure.

Turner said the proposed ordinance would give teeth to a 2006 ordinance prohibiting the playing music that is audible 25 feet from a vehicle. Though similar to the state's statute on loud car music, the Brooksville ordinance allows for a first-offense warning. A subsequent offense could earn the car owner a $250 fine; the next offense, $500.

"Really, I don't ever foresee the need for anyone to receive a summons or actually committing a second violation," Turner said. "They'll know the next offense could result in enforcement. I can't imagine anyone disregarding the law then and doing that again."

Also, the City Council agreed Monday to allow Hernando County to terminate a lease for the Property Appraiser's Office about three months early in exchange for some donated computer equipment. City Manager Jennene Norman-Vacha said she is hopeful the county will provide the city with some surplus computers, likely a vast improvement over some of the city's outdated equipment.

Joel Anderson can be reached at joelanderson@sptimes.com or (352) 754-6120.

Brooksville council gives initial approval to vehicle impoundment ordinance 07/07/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 7, 2009 9:12pm]
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