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Town officials, justices have differing views on derelict properties in Fort

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FORT COVINGTON – Bruce McCaffrey approached the town board this week to see if anything could be done about his neighbor’s property strewn with garbage and debris, but town officials seem to have differing opinions about why he’s never been prosecuted. Town Councilman Paul Lauzon said the board has done its part by implementing a code that sets fines at up to $500 for each continuous day of violation and the code officer is issuing citations to bring violators to court. However, he feels the town justices are giving too many second chances and not meting out punishment.

But town justices Cheryl Wilbanks and Clayton Almond have a differing perspective. Each reversed the blame and said Code Officer Gordon Halley isn’t issuing the proper citations; Ms. Wilbanks said she has only presided over two trash violations in nine years on the bench. Both justices also said when people do come to court, giving the defendants 30 days to rectify the mess usually serves as an adequate wake up call.

“Most comply within 30 days,” Mr. Almond said.

Ms. Wilbanks said the only instance she knows of a fine being issued was to Fort Covington resident Steve Mitchell about 18 months ago, but she said due to financial issues he hasn’t been able to pay his fine.

“It’s hard to get money from a rock,” she said. “We do all we can do, according to the law.”

The property at 47 Covington St. discussed at the town board meeting is owned by Denis Stone and is littered with trash and debris plainly visible from the roadway. The enclosed front porch appears to be packed with trash.

Mr. McCaffrey said it is so bad that last year during Jack Buchanan’s funeral at the Presbyterian Church across the street, the Buchanan family requested that fire trucks line up and block the Stone property from view. Every fire department in Franklin County sent a truck to take part in a procession for the former chief.

Town Councilman John Cushman, the longest-serving board member, said the issue is nothing new, and he believes it has gotten worse over time, although the justices claim the contrary.

“It’s been an ongoing problem for years,” Mr. Cushman said.

He charged the lack of enforcement makes the problem “breed,” meaning that word gets around that people can get away with having garbage-strewn property in Fort Covington.

Mr. Almond offered a differing view.

“I think they’re better than they were at one time,” the 12-year veteran of the bench said.

The town board and justices agree they need to tread lightly for the sake of justice when dealing with derelict homes.

“We have to be careful how much we influence the justices,” Mr. Cushman said. “We’re representing the people of Fort Covington.”

“You have to be just for both sides – there’s two sides to every story,” Ms. Wilbanks said. “But there’s no excuse for this.”

Mr. Halley did not return requests for comment.

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