Breaking the law could get even more costly if the Ennis City Commission vote to raise the dollar amount of fines levied by the city for various offenses.
In comparison with seven surrounding cities, Ennis falls in the low range on some fines and in the high range on others according to City Manager Steve Howerton.
“In looking at the city’s fine structure, we are below average on the amount of some fines levied such as the penalty for writing a bad check, public intoxication and having high grass and weeds on a person’s property, it would make sense for the city to become contemporary with the current scale. However, I am not proposing that we go to the other end of the scale and become the city with the highest fines either,” Howerton said.
After checking the list of current fines for various violations, Commissioner Byron Walker proposed that the city look into how much of a difference it would mean if the lower fines, (which are currently as low as $25) were increased to at least $50 per violation.
The proposed increase is a safety measure as well as a way to bring in revenue according to Howerton.
“The city has to make sure that the fines associated with a crime are not so low that it does nothing to deter people from becoming repeat offenders. If a person knows that a particular violation only comes with a small fine, there is little incentive to not take the same actions again. However, the city also has to be fair and avoid being excessive in the proposed increase,” he said.
Currently the city averages about 20 trials per month with 90 percent of violators paying the ‘window fine’, which is the amount set by the city if the person does not elect to have their issue go before the judge.
The commission agreed to check into the issue further and look at adopting an area wide average if they agree to the fine fee increase.
In other news, the commission voted to repeal the current municipal code and establish restrictions on the types of wheeled devices allowed on sidewalks in the downtown area. The issue was brought to the attention of the commission after numerous complaints of skateboard users being a problem for local vendors and customers.
“I have had lots of calls from people that would like to see the kids move the area they skateboard on from the downtown area. I have looked at several areas that are currently being used and damage has been done to property from constant use,” said mayor pro tem Bob Taylor.
The commission hopes to alleviate the issue by allowing the skateboard users access to sidewalks and concrete in residential areas. The new ordinance will also give bicycle users the same right.
The issue of how to enforce the new ordinance, which saw the commission table the issue in the last meeting was addressed by chief of police John Erisman who feels that the police department will handle the situation with discretion and on a case by case basis.
“I really feel that the officers will handle each case based on their discretion and obviously not come down hard on offenders the first time. The first time, anyone in violation will be issued a warning. If the same person is observed violating the ordinance again, a conversation with the child’s parents will take place before any fines will be given. It will take word of mouth and posting the new ordinance for the public to see before any changes will take place and the police department does not intend to hand out fines until everyone is aware of the change,” Erisman said.
In other items:
The commission voted to accept a bid from Prosperity Bank to be the official city depository for a two year period. The bank has handled the city accounts since 1995 and offers lower, if any fees for services the city requires. Notification was sent to all local banks with Prosperity offering the only bid.
The commission approved Chase Bank as the lender for a new fire truck it will purchase. The total cost of the loan for the truck is about $450,000.00 and will on a seven year term of repayment.
The commissioners voted to adopt a proposed property tax rate of 71 cents per $100.00 evaluated. Public hearings on the tax rate will be on Aug. 20 and Sept. 4.
The commission voted to allow the city staff to move forward with the process of recruiting an appraisal for the old Ennis Regional Medical Center and taking bids from companies that will help market the facility.
The commission meets at 7 p.m. the first and third Monday of the month at city hall, 115 W. Brown St., with workshops meetings held at 6 p.m. The meetings are open to the public.
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