Proposed changes for VRC program

Proposed changes for VRC program
Holmes Beach Commissioner Kim Rash and Police Chief Bill Tokajer discuss possible wording changes to the flyers and window clings required to be placed in each vacation rental unit in the city. - Kristin Swain | Sun

HOLMES BEACH – City leaders are considering implementing some changes to the vacation rental certificate program that may cost vacation rental owners a little more money at application and renewal.

“This is way better than it was the first time,” Commissioner Rick Hurst said of the proposed changes to the ordinance.

One of the biggest changes to the ordinance is a proposed increase in the cost for application and renewal every two years to $600 from $150. Mayor Judy Titsworth said the increase will allow the program to be self-sufficient, paying for itself without putting an undue burden on taxpayers or relying on fines for funding. She said her hope is that eventually the city will be able to have complete compliance with the program and issuing fines will be a rarity.

Another potential change is in how violators of the VRC program will be cited. Under the current ordinance, violators are given a warning and time to comply with the program’s rules. Repeat violators can be taken before a special magistrate by code compliance, though none have been brought before a special magistrate yet.

Under the proposed ordinance a first violation can result in a fine and any subsequent violations will result in fines and an appearance before the special magistrate where Titsworth hopes daily fines will be instated. Violators who do not pay their fines will automatically be taken before the special magistrate.

“It’s got the teeth in it we were looking for,” she said.

Commissioner Jim Kihm said he wants to make sure that serious violations of the program are addressed and discouraged by code compliance officers and the related fine amounts.

Though a proposed flat fine amount of $150 for a first violation, $500 for a second violation and $5,000 for an irreversible violation were suggested by city staff, commissioners are considering putting violations into tiers to separate serious violations from those that could simply be an oversight on the part of a rental agent or property owner.

City Attorney Patricia Petruff said the highest amount allowable for a first code enforcement violation is $250 per day. She encouraged commissioners to make sure there is a good balance in the ordinance between compliance and enforcement. Kihm asked her to come back to commissioners with the maximum applicable fine amounts allowed by the state for future discussion.

Commissioner Carol Soustek said she doesn’t feel that tiers for violations will be necessary if code compliance officers build a strong case for repeat violators to bring before the special magistrate.

The change of authorized agent fee is proposed to increase from $35 to $50. Reinspection and second reinspection fees are proposed to remain the same at $50 and $70 respectively.

Titsworth said she’d spoken with code compliance officers who assured her that the fees cover the costs of staff time, including benefits, to conduct the inspections.

Discussions on proposed changes to the VRC are expected to continue at a future commission work session.

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