County Prepares Civil Infractions Ordinance

A countywide civil infractions ordinance was given initial approval by the Washtenaw County commissioners at their Oct. 17, 2012 meeting. The board has previously discussed the idea of creating such an ordinance, but the item was not on the original published agenda. It was added as a supplemental agenda item during the meeting.

Currently, criminal misdemeanors are the only penalty that the county can apply for an ordinance violation. The intent of the proposed ordinance is to give the county more flexibility to designate violations of other county ordinances as a civil infraction, rather than a criminal misdemeanor. The proposed fines would be $50 for a first offense, $100 for a second offense, and $500 for a third or any subsequent offense.

The issue of a civil infractions ordinance was raised most recently in the context of developing a policy for animal control services. Currently, not having a dog license is a criminal misdemeanor of 90 days in jail or a $500 fine. Because the penalty is relatively harsh, enforcement is low. County treasurer Catherine McClary had told the board at a February 2011 meeting that she was interested in developing a civil infractions ordinance for dog licensing, with the goal of increasing licensing compliance as a matter of public safety.

McClary and Kirk Tabbey, chief judge of the 14-A District Court, were on hand at the Oct. 17 meeting and answered questions from commissioners about the effort. The 14-A District Court has developed a collections system that the county hopes to use as a model. The ordinance was researched and written by Curtis Hedger, the county’s corporation counsel.

Other departments – such as the building department, health department and office of the water resources commissioner – are also interested in applying civil infractions. So the ordinance is written in a general way, and not limited to a specific type of violation.

A final vote is expected at the board’s Nov. 7 meeting. The board set a public hearing on the proposed ordinance for that same meeting.

This brief was filed from the boardroom of the county administration building at 220 N. Main St. in Ann Arbor, where the board of commissioners holds its meetings. A more detailed report will follow: [link]