Jefferson County approves compliance code

Board of Health, commissioners OK ordinance for new policy

PORT TOWNSEND — The Jefferson County Board of Health and the board of county commissioners have approved a compliance code they expect will reduce the number of criminal complaints sent to superior court.

The county previously didn’t have a compliance code, which led to administrative and enforcement issues.

The two boards met Thursday to continue deliberations on the code, and the board of health passed the ordinance 5-1, with board member Denis Stearns casting the lone dissenting vote.

The three county commissioners — who are also on the Board of Health — immediately followed and unanimously approved the ordinance.

Before the code was created, some violations fell under criminal misdemeanors, and that’s not how it should be handled, county code compliance coordinator Debra Murdock has said.

Jefferson County joined Clallam and Kitsap counties and the cities of Port Townsend, Sequim and Port Angeles with having a compliance code.

Jefferson County’s code focuses more on the process and education before penalties for possible violations, Murdock said.

The compliance code “zips” the current public nuisance chapter of the county code with the new provisions, so it could be combined in the same Title 19 code.

That means there will be only one place for compliance measures.

The new code adds voluntary compliance tools for people who may be violating parts of the county code.

The steps for compliance include a notice of voluntary compliance, which notifies the resident of the violation and asks them to correct it; if the violation is not corrected there, the county will further attempt to have the resident enter a voluntary compliance agreement that would have them correct the violation; if that doesn’t work, an official notice of violation would be issued, and that would outline what penalties would be enforced if the violation is not corrected.

However, the new code gives the department director the discretion to settle the penalties on a case-by-case basis.

The code includes a three-step appeal process for code violations, starting with an in-house administrative appeal to the department that issued the violation.

The appeal process may then go to the hearing examiner, and that decision can be appealed to Superior Court, Murdock said.

The board members did amend the proposed code, dropping the filing fee for an appeal of the administrative hearing to the Office of the Hearing Examiner from $500 to $250.

They also added the provision that the county commissioners may wave the filing fee if a person can’t afford to pay.

Murdock said the code was created because previous codes didn’t work, the public had demanded a compliance code, and the COVID-19 pandemic limited the county to charge under criminal prosecution for guidance infringements, which was impractical.

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Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5 or at [email protected].

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