Laramie’s City Council held their meeting on Wednesday instead of the usual Tuesday this week due to the election. During the meeting, it approved the first reading of a measure giving more authority to the city and the Laramie Fire Department to give citations to companies in breach of building or fire code, especially when it could potentially impact public safety.
The city, Building Division and Fire Prevention worked with the City Attorney’s office to propose the changes to the municipal code, which gives the City Manager authority to “designate special officers” the ability to write citations for code violations, especially operating without a license or safety violations.
Tim Hoff, building inspector with the city’s Code Administration Division, said it was an important step for public safety.
“There’s been situations that occur [where] the citizens of Laramie were in danger, and it took way too much time to correct the situation,” Hoff said. “If we could’ve written a citation so the offending parties appeared before a judge, it may not stop it, but it sure would make people think twice about doing it again.”
The city’s planning manager, Derek Teini, said the current process is slow and labor-intensive, which makes it hard to enforce.
“That typically takes months, often we don’t find resolution and that then ultimately will end up in court,” Teini said. “Often during our inspections through building code and fire, we run into life-safety issues that need immediate fixes, not fixes in three months. We’re not able to address it except through this kind of slow process that works for all other zoning violations — setback issues, things like that — but not in this case.”
Teini said that fire code citations now typically require the presence of a police officer, who may not feel comfortable enough with the fire code to write a ticket for the violation. The hope is the amendment will better enforce citations, especially dangerous ones.
“We find violations and people don’t want to comply,” Fire Marshall Mark Doyle said. “We don’t really have any recourse, so this gives us a little bit of leverage to do that. … As far as inspections go, typically this will give us a little bit of encouragement for business owners to comply and continue to comply.”
The municipal code has a section detailing it “should be regularly reviewed, evaluated and amended, if necessary, based on private and city economic conditions, vision for the community, changing planning and zoning principles, frequent difficulty in implementing or enforcing any specific standard(s), or changes in the state, federal or case law.”
The proposed updated citation system allows for up to three offenses within five years when working without a license or permit, with fines ranging from $50 on the first offense to $750. Other violations covered in the code incur a base fine of $250. Fire Code violations see a fine of $500 per violation. Teini said there are further consequences if the violations are too frequent.
“The last main section of the changes talks about what happens when someone needing permits or license — depending on the two — does so and violates that consecutively within a 12-month period,” Teini said. “If you receive three violations, you are not able to get another permit or license for six months.”
Hoff said this wouldn’t affect local contractors, especially the ones keeping their permits and licenses up to date.
“This is meant to be more of a deterrent rather than a punishment in my way of thinking,” Hoff said. “We don’t have a lot of problems with local companies and contractors. Where we have the problem is out of state contractors coming in for what they consider a small job, and they’re in and out in a few days. It’s really an unfair situation to our local contractors because they go through the licensing process, they’re qualified and an out of state contractor comes in and does this job without a permit, without being licensed. The playing field isn’t level.”
Teini added the Build and Fire Code Board of Appeals is an independent resource for anyone who feels the fines or citations are undeserved so long as an appeal is submitted within 15 days of receipt of the citation.
The amendment acknowledges the building and fire code authorities are not police officers, and their citation authority is limited by Wyoming statute. The Planning Commission voted unanimously to approve the amendment. Maura Hanning, member of the planning commission, voiced her approval of the measure to Council, saying it’s a “no brainer.”
“We had a robust dialogue about the slippery slope of adding a citation potential and came to a unanimous agreement that this is a really good thing for community to allow enforcement right away when you see a safety violation,” Hanning said. “We agreed it was a good thing, that it was a well-balanced citation approach that allowed discretion still and had an administrative review process, so it can’t be citations running amok.”
The city will have its second reading along with hosting a public hearing about the amended ordinance during its next regular meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 20.