I-Team: Forgiven fines

A News 2 investigation found Charleston County isn’t collecting on thousands of dollars in fines for property that is, in some cases, flat out dangerous and violates County codes.

The violation issues run the gamut and include junk accumulating, unsafe structures, and someone operating a business without a permit.
These issues can effect property value and bring crime, but News 2 found often the fines go unpaid in Charleston County.

The Church Creek Plaza was a sight and sore subject for people living in the community West Ashley.

“It was a lot of graffiti and an abandoned waste of space,”  Brian Duncan, homeowner, told News 2’s Rebecca Collett.

The Church Creek Plaza was once a grocery store, pharmacy, video store, and pizza place. For years it sat empty and became the canvas for graffiti artists and shelter to the homeless.

“It just brings bad crowds and bad stuff,” Thais Duncan said.

In 2014 Charleston County aggressively ticketed the owner for the wild weeds and junk accumulating on the property.  The owner, Morton Scholnick, racked up $54, 600 dollars in fines, but he may not have to pay a cent.

“The point of writing a summons is not to collect a fee or fine,”  Joel Evans, Charleston County Planning Director, explained.

Evans says the point is to gain compliance.

In the last two years, code enforcers responded to 331 complaints. Their first step is to contact the property owner if a code is broken. If the owner won’t comply, the next step is a written notice. On average, a violation is resolved within 60 days.

“Enforcing the ordinances ensures the quality of life for people living in the county,” Evans explained.

The final step is writing a summons.

“If we get to the point where we have to write a summons, we then work closely with our legal department,” he said.

Between 2013 and 2014, 91 were written for $81,019.01 worth of fines.  So far, the county only collected on $10,938.25.
“That’s just kind of ridiculous to be honest,” Brian Duncan said. “They could be collecting that money and doing something with it.”

The county spokesman says the county doesn’t collect all the money.

If a judge assesses the full amount for a fine of $1,092.00, here’s the breakdown:

  • General Fund:  $499.76
  • Victim Services Asm: $59.97
  • Victim Conviction Surcharge: $25
  • Law Enforcement Funding Surcharge: $25
  • SC Criminal Justice Academy Training: $5
  • State Assessment: $477.27

 

“They can just up and leave and not have any repercussions from it,” he continued

In the case against Church Creek Plaza, it eventually took a separate civil case to gain compliance. Demolition on the shopping center started this summer.

Most of the county’s code enforcement comes from community complaints. If you have a complaint, click: Here.

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