A man told the North Wilkesboro commissioners that a $1,800 fine levied on him for having a noncompliant amount of personal property outside a home he owns at 916 K Street was excessive and then asked that it be waived or reduced.
Gabe Miller said that he wasn’t aware that his fine was increasing by $100 each day because notifications intended for him were being sent to the wrong address. The town’s policy is to send such mail to the owner’s address as listed on tax records.
Miller said that after first learning he was being fined, he told the town about his remediation plan, and then received an email on May 16 from John Ganus, the town’s code enforcement officer, that said, “Thank you for the update.”
Ganus is an employee of N-Focus, a company hired by North Wilkesboro to conduct code enforcement. Town officials have said Ganus works about eight hours a week for North Wilkesboro.
Miller said he thought the May 16 email from Ganus meant everything was okay and didn’t know any different until Sept. 12, when Ganus informed him that his fine had been increased to $1,200.
He said that he asked Ganus to visit his property on Sept. 17 but Ganus could not make the appointment, and the fine again increased, this time to $1,400.
Miller asked the board, “Why didn’t the Town of North Wilkesboro have employees or a contractor enter the property, as it says they shall do if the property is not in compliance? I had no reason to assume he (Ganus) wasn’t done with me.”
On Sept. 20, the property was remedied, and Miller called Town Hall to inform them of his compliance, but he said no one answered the phone from approximately 4:30 p.m. to 4:55 p.m. His fine had increased to $1,800 by Sept. 23, he said.
“I cleaned this property as fast as humanly possible,” said Miller. “I moved approximately 6,000 pounds of brand-new tile and five brand-new doors. This stuff wasn’t trash or junk. I am a good citizen and I’ve not done anything wrong in my eyes except try to remodel the property.”
Miller said that the town’s policy of increasing the code fine by $100 a day, with no fine cap, is excessive. “To me, $1,800 is excessive and I’m respectfully asking that the fine be dropped or substantially reduced. A reasonable fine would have been $150 or $200.”
He added, “All I want is to get my life back, for this is not stopping—it keeps repeating in my mind. I just want peace in my life.”
Town Manager Wilson Hooper, participating in the monthly meeting Tuesday via speaker phone, told the board he wouldn’t recommend reducing the fine. “If we waive it, we’d have to waive it for everybody. I see no evidence that we erred or didn’t follow our procedure.”
At the suggestion of Commissioner Debbie Ferguson, Hooper agreed to meet with Miller, Planning Director Meredith Detsch and Town Attorney Gary Vannoy to negotiate a possible reduction of the fine. Details of the meeting weren’t set during the meeting.
Commissioner Bert Hall asked, “How many other people have we fined this way?” and Detsch said two—Miller and one other—since she went to work for the town on July 29. She said fines in the other case are still accumulating. Hooper said Miller’s fine is no longer increasing because he is in compliance.
Hall added, “I would like to revisit our system of fines. I agree with Mr. Miller that an unlimited amount of fines is very excessive. Eighteen-hundred dollars is a lot of money and an excessive fine, in my opinion, for anybody.”
Ferguson commented, “I am glad that the town is using the fine mechanism now, because as John (Ganus) said, when he came and starting working with us, there are times you just can’t get work done without that tool (fines). We have properties in our town that are in a bad shape and never should have gotten that way.”
From April 15 to May 21, Miller and Joshua Allen of Arden were engaged in a bidding war over the town-owned commercial property at 912 Main Street, swapping the lead several times. The property was eventually sold to Allen for $65,784.72 in June.
Miller, in a letter to the Wilkes Journal-Patriot published May 24, said he lost a great deal of interest in the 912 Main Street building after his personal inspections of the building revealed what he called fire damage and other safety concerns within and outside the building.
“New owners of the 912 Main Street property shouldn’t be faced with issues, dangers and liabilities passed on by the town,” wrote Miller.
Also during the meeting Tuesday, the board:
• administered the oath of office to Christopher Michael Duckworth, new North Wilkesboro Police officer;
• approved a resolution absolving $3,530.26 in uncollected debt from the Broadway Water Association. This is money Broadway wasn’t able to collect;
• approved a budget amendment providing an additional $29,000 for operational needs of the town’s planning and inspections department for fiscal 2019-20. This includes funds for paying N-Focus and the High Country Council of Governments (HCCOG), and for professional development;
• approved the voluntary annexation of a parcel at 1524 Statesville Road, owned by William Hamby, who wants to connect the property to a town sewer line. It’s zoned highway-business and is within the town’s extra-territorial zoning jurisdiction;
• authorized Hooper to negotiate and sign an agreement with the HCCOG for a zoning ordinance review and update that will align the town’s zoning code with state statutes. HCCOG is charging $2,400 for this service;
• authorized Hooper to sign an updated agreement between the town and Mastin Aquatic Recreation LLC for completion of the “splash pad” at Smoot Park Pool. The agreement calls for the town to purchase $40,000 in materials to finish the project, and for the contractor, James “Buster” Mastin of North Wilkesboro, to waive the final $8,000 in labor costs, complete the project in six weeks, and provide a two-year warranty on labor and materials; and
• authorized town staff to accept a four-year, $527,250 grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response program to fund the salaries of four new part-time firefighters, increase per-call pay of volunteer firefighters, and other related expenses.