Public hearing set for new compliance code

Jefferson County lacks regulations

PORT TOWNSEND — The Jefferson County commissioners plan a joint public hearing with the county Board of Health to create a compliance code, something the county does not currently have.

The lack of a county compliance code has led to administrative issues and have placed some code violations to fall under criminal misdemeanors, an action that needs to be corrected, said Debra Murdock, code compliance coordinator.

“Right now, if you were to violate a building code violation, and I was to go through the process, it would be a criminal misdemeanor charge,” Murdock told the board of county commissioners Monday.

“That’s not something I feel is necessary for those types of violations, especially when it’s just that you didn’t know and it’s more of an education.”

The next steps for the county commissioners are to receive public comment on the proposed compliance code through the end of the public hearing at 2:30 p.m. Nov. 19.

That will be followed by deliberations between the two boards, with potential adoption of the new code on Dec. 17, said Philip Hunsucker, chief civil deputy prosecuting attorney.

To submit a comment regarding the new code, email [email protected].

The full proposed code and Monday’s discussion can be viewed at tinyurl.com/PDN-JeffersonCompliance.

While Clallam and Kitsap counties and the cities of Port Townsend, Sequim and Port Angeles have compliance codes, Jefferson County is the only government jurisdiction without one, Hunsucker said.

Hunsucker and Murdock summarized three needs: the current county codes don’t work, the public has demanded a compliance code, and the COVID-19 pandemic limits the county to currently charge under criminal prosecution for guidance infringements, which is impractical.

The City of Port Townsend, as an example, can use its enforcement code regarding COVID-19 regulations, but the county doe not have one, Hunsucker said.

The proposed code focuses more on the process and education before leading to penalization for possible code violations, Murdock said.

“Right now, having the tools of what we’re presenting will allow me to show [a] very clear step-by-step process that allows people to comply, to have an administrative hearing to plead their case to a director and then, if needed, go to a hearing examiner,” Murdock said.

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

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

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 reach out and 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 will be issued, and that would outlines what penalties will be enforced if the violation is not corrected.

However, the new code gives the department director who is overseeing that specific code the discretion to settle the penalties on a case-by-case basis.

“We really don’t want to have to penalize people,” Hunsucker said. “We want people to be in compliance, and this whole code is designed to bring people along.”

The proposed 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, Hunsucker said.

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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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