The city will soon begin towing away junk cars, thanks to a new ordinance approved Tuesday by the Mobile City Council.
The ordinance, which will go into effect with in a week, will allow municipal enforcement officers to initially ticket and later remove any inoperable vehicle sitting within public for 30 days or more.
“(Junk cars) are unsightly and diminish property values,” Mayor Sandy Stimpson said during the meeting. “This will give us the tools to be able to go in and remove them. This should be warmly received by all Mobilians ….”
In 2017, Stimpson said,the city received 800 complaints about junk cars to its 311 line. In 2018 thus far, the city has received 315 complaints.
At least one Mobilian has not received a warm and fuzzy feeling from the new ordinance. Pake Avenue resident John Burke questioned the city’s priorities in going after junk vehicles when crime is a bigger issue in his neighborhood. The antique car restorer called the ordinance “overbearing.”
“I’m scared,” he said. “I don’t know where this is going to go. It’s a slippery slope.”
Recent changes to the ordinance were made, in part, to alleviate some of Burke’s concerns, Councilman John Williams said. If a dispute arises between a property owner and the city, a written request to Stimpson’s administration can trigger a hearing in front of the council. Williams said the hearing would allow councilors to review evidence from both sides and make a determination.
Under the ordinance, a vehicle left parked in one place for 30 days will be ticketed. Both the property owner and the vehicle owner will be notified. If the car is not moved in another 30 days, the city will use a wrecker service from its rotating list to tow the vehicle to impound. A lien will then be placed on the vehicle and after 60 days at the impound lot, it will be sold at auction.
Any money made at auction, above and beyond the price of impound will be given to the listed owner of the vehicle.
The ordinance only affects vehicles in plain view of the public. Vehicles kept in backyards, or otherwise out of public view would not be ticketed.
Councilors were in favor of the law once the changes were added, following a meeting of the board’s public safety committee. Councilman Fred Richardson argued that the ordinance would help reduce crime, comparing junk cars to blight.
“Blight drives crime,” he said. “Areas where crime is highest are going to be areas where blight is worst.”
Councilman C.J. Small applauded state Rep. Adline Clarke (D-Mobile) for getting a similar law passed in the legislature, which allowed city officials to adopt it. He said he’s personally received complaints from residents in District 3 about vehicles sitting in yards for years.
“The ordinance is designed to help get rid of blight,” he said.
The council also heard again from a group concerned with the pay and treatment of the city’s Public Works employees. Joe Keffer, with the Poor People’s Campaign, said the employees who work to maintain the city deserve to be paid more. He also said a system of “Fear and intimidation” within the department needs to stop, referring to what employees called “the box.”
City spokeswoman confirmed that employees had been forced to undergo training and some had taken exception to it. Keffer said while “the box” was supposed to be about training “it wasn’t.”
Mark Bass, president of a local dock workers advocacy group, said the organization stands behind Public Works employees and if a resolution wasn’t agreed upon, the group would be calling on community action to intervene.
In other business, the council, by a 6-1 vote, approved a $336,000 contract with Infrastructure Management Services LLC for pavement inspection and evaluation of all roadways in the city.
Councilwoman Bess Rich, who was the lone dissenting vote, argued against the proposal, saying additional software needed for the program would be too costly. She also questioned the need for such a study because the County Commission does all of its evaluations in house.
Stimpson said he was unaware of any additional software and argued that the city’s roadways make up 70 percent of the line miles of roadways in the county.
Richardson also argued that a study would be unnecessary because the city would not be able to afford to act on the recommendations made. He also objected to the study dipping into the $21 million in district-by-district capital improvement money.
“The budget is $321 million,” RIchardson said. “Why are you raiding our $21 million? We have 300 other million to use, but you’ve got your hand in mine now.”
Williams agreed that the city does conduct too many studies, but he agrees with the merits of this one.