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Ordinances may make crime pay
Funds sought for costly drug cleanup, crime enforcement
Wednesday, July 24, 2013
By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer
The Henry County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday scheduled public hearings on several proposed ordinances to help recoup funds spent on drug, DUI and other enforcement and emergency activities.
The three public hearings will be held during the board’s meeting at 6 p.m. Aug. 27.
One ordinance will help pay for costs of cleaning up methamphetamine operations.
Supervisors expressed particular concern after learning from Sheriff Lane Perry that law enforcement only cleans up the toxic chemicals. That, he said, can cost up to $2,500 per incident.
Any residue left behind as a result of a meth operation is left up to the property owner to address, but there is no system for ensuring the property is cleaned before it is rented or sold.
County Attorney George Lyle, who serves on the Henry-Martinsville Social Services board, said that in the past month, the agency has been involved with a number of children who tested positive for various levels of recreational drugs. He did not elaborate.
Virginia law provides “some limited remedy to recover cleanup expenses” through court-ordered restitution of people convicted with the operation, Lyle said. But, he added, there is no law that would allow the county to seize the property until it is cleaned up or to check the property before another person moves in.
Ridgeway District Supervisor H.G. Vaughn said the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) or the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) “should have some responsibility to clean up” properties or ensure that the properties are cleaned up. “Why don’t we have the authority to declare it unsafe,” he asked.
“We as a government don’t have that authority,” Lyle said. It would be “risky business” if the county did have that authority because “a lot of properties in this community could be hazardous for a number of reasons,” he added.
Collinsville District Supervisor Joe Bryant and Horsepasture District Supervisor Debra Buchanan also expressed concern.
“This ordinance seems like a Band-Aid for a much bigger problem,” Buchanan said. “I think this is a much bigger problem than we realized.”
Supervisors also decided to contact state legislators and lobby for some type of legislation that will help protect innocent people from moving into property that has been used for a meth operation.
The supervisors also set public hearings for the same date on a proposed ordinance to recoup expenses related to hoax terrorism threats (pranks) that could call for the person convicted to pay up to $1,000 for emergency responses by law enforcement, firefighting, rescue and emergency medical services.
Localities alternately could bill a flat fee of $250, or charge a minute-by-minute accounting of the actual costs incurred, according to Lyle.
Commonwealth Attorney Andrew Nester asked for the third proposed ordinance to help recoup some of the costs associated with responding to drunken driving accidents.
Those costs could be recovered from those convicted of driving under the influence or related offenses, up to $1,000.