YORK, Maine — With an eye toward helping a clogged court system and streamlining the process for people who admit to violating town ordinances, Police Chief Douglas Bracy is proposing that the town and not the courts handle uncontested ordinance infractions.
Fines will also be more uniformly applied as Bracy looks to rectify a system he said has been a burden to district court judges as well as a source of irritation to violators who today have to go to court to get a simple town issue settled.
“People have told me they’ve spent their whole time in court on some of these matters and they weren’t even heard,” said Bracy.
Bracy and Sgt. Owen Davis, who conducted the research, have presented a list of 21 ordinances to be changed — everything from animal control to surfing to noise to business licensing. Violations of any of them now require people to go to York District Court — whether or not they admit their guilt and were intending to pay the fine anyway.
Those who want to contest the violation can still go to court, but under the proposal, scofflaws can opt to just go to the York Police Department within 20 days and pay the fine.
“It would be like a parking ticket,” said Bracy. “You’d still have a right to contest the ticket in court, but I had multiple people complaining to me that they’re spending too much time in court and would rather just pay the fine.”
As part of the proposal, individual ordinance fines have also been scrutinized.
Many currently give a fine range, say, between $100 and $500, which would require a judicial decision. Under the changes, ordinances would have set fines for first, second and third and subsequent violations, making it easy for someone to pay.
The police have proposed increasing fines for yard sale violators and for those who sell food from vehicles. Fines are now $25 and $20 respectively, and would increase to $100, $150 and $250 per violation.
“I’ve urged an increase in these fines to keep them in line with other violations,” he said. “We’ve tried to use reasonableness but also a sense of consequence.”
The ordinance streamlining process comes as the state of Maine is considering instituting a unified court system in York County — perhaps having only one district court instead of the three that currently exist. While discussions are ongoing and no decisions have been made, said Bracy, bringing these small civil violations under the town’s umbrella will reduce workload for the courts.
“It’s not fair to the justices, really,” he said. “If we could take that burden off the court, it would be helpful to them.”
Changes to all 21 ordinances require voter approval. Selectmen will hold a public hearing March 23 and will then vote whether or not to put them on the ballot for voters in May.