Judge's gavel

Right now, it can take upwards of six months for the city of Myrtle Beach to deal with an unkempt property or an abandoned vehicle in the city limits.

That may soon change with a new city court.

Deputy city manager Fox Simons told the city council last week that a Quality of Life Court would only handle nuisance abatement issues and would speed up the process of cleaning up the city and ensuring the safety of residents and visitors.

On Tuesday, city council voted in favor of a resolution establishing the court.

Modeled after a Livability Court initiated by Mayor Joseph Riley in Charleston in 2002, the new municipal court takes handling nuisances out of the administrative side of city government and puts them into the process of the court system. Currently, these issues do not become part of the legal side until a hearing is held to deal with them.

In the current system, the final say is left up to the city council. With the new court, this takes that duty completely out of the council’s hands and leaves the decision up to a municipal judge.

When the situations make it to the legal system now, Simons said code cases become mixed in with everything else the municipal court handles.

“They get lost in the shuffle,” he said.

The new court will not only deal with properties in disrepair and abandoned vehicles but also problems such as repeated noise ordinance violations, illegal dumping, excessive grass and weeds, signage, zoning violations and fire code violations.

The biggest advantage of the new court, Simons said, is that problems that can affect the public’s safety and well-being as well as the city’s appearance can be rectified much faster than going through the current system, which can take at least six months in many cases.

Once a complaint is made or a problem is discovered, a city police officer and code inspector, together if possible, will deliver a municipal court summons to the property owner.

The property owner will have 20 days to take care of the problem. The police will have the discretion to just issue a warning for first time violations.

The city judge will have the discretion to continue the case if the defendant seems to be showing good faith in correcting the problem; have the city staff abate the nuisance and lien the property; or fine the defendant $1,087 a day or 30 days in jail.

Simons said the new court isn’t designed as a revenue generator but a means to clean up the city and make it safer.

Another issue the city faces is tracking down absentee property owners when problems arise. Simons said he would like to see a rental registration program initiated with this new system similar to one being used in the city of Clemson. This would require anyone leasing their property to make sure there is a local contact the city can deal with should a nuisance occur.

Mayor Brenda Bethune said she could not understand why some residents or business owners do not take care of their properties.

“We have to put our best foot forward,” she said.

After the council’s vote Tuesday, city officials said it will take 30-45 days to make some procedural changes in the city code of ordinances.

“We’d like to roll it out around the first of year and then go live in July,” Simons said.

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