Elkin leaders recently made changes to the fire protection ordinance, the town’s fee schedule and approved the refund of some fees levied due to fire code inspection penalties after concerns were brought to them by the fire chief.
As the Elkin Fire Department began in the last few months to conduct fire code inspections on a more routine basis, fire officials have found a large number of violations, explained Fire Chief Mike Morton to the town commissioners at a December meeting.
The fire protection ordinance, which was adopted in 1991, requires penalties to be addressed at the time of inspection, Morton explained. “We’ve found a lot of violations, and that is putting a large financial burden on business owners and property owners in the community,” he said.
Morton recommending a new structure to the ordinance which will provide a grace period to allow owners to fix the violations which are found by dividing violations into two categories —imminent hazards and all other violations.
For violations in the imminent fire threat category, owners have 72 hours to correct the issues which are discovered before fees and penalties are levied. These violations would include any violations of a means of egress which are outlined in the state fire prevention code; overcrowding which violates occupancy limits; occupying a structure or area without a certificate of occupancy; ongoing construction or operations without proper permits; dangerous storage or unlawful amounts of combustible, flammable, explosive or other hazardous materials; hazardous conditions due to defective or improperly installed equipment for handling or using combustible, flammable, explosive or other hazardous materials; accumulation of rubbish, waste paper, boxes, shavings or other combustible materials; accumulation of dust or waste in an air conditioning or ventilation system or of grease in a kitchen or exhaust ducts; and anything which might obstruct the operation of the fire department.
All other fire code violations, which are categorized as general fire threats, will have a 30-day period to be corrected before a reinspection will occur prior to any fees or penalties occurring, with the changes to the ordinance, which were adopted unanimously by the commissioners following Morton’s three-part presentation.
“During reinspections then we will fine as appropriate,” Morton said of finding violations on a follow-up inspection.
He explained the new ordinance stipulations follow procedures used at other locations, and the 72-hour grace period for reinspections also follows the paid personnel’s rotating schedule so the same person would be doing the reinspecting for those violations.
The formal motion by Commissioner Bob Norton was to accept the changed Chapter 93 in the ordinance, which was seconded by Commissioner J.L. Lowe prior to approval by the board.
The second portion of Morton’s presentation was to update the town’s fee schedule to be in line with the new ordinance. The new fee schedule allows for no charge for any code violation found during the first inspection.
Then the penalty for imminent hazards still remaining after the 72-hour period is $250 per violation per day. For an overcrowding violation, the fee is $100 per person over the number allowed. Occupying a structure without having a certificate of occupancy will be a charge of $500 per occurrence, while doing construction or operations without a proper permit will be a fine of $250 per occurrence.
The fine for all other code violations not corrected within 30 days will be $50 per violation per day.
The new fee schedule was approved unanimously by the commissioners.
In light of the changes, and the large number of violations which have previously been discovered since Morton came aboard as chief during the summer, he and Town Manager John Holcomb recommended to the commissioners they grant refunds for any general fire code violations which have been cited to this point.
“The town billed about $4,000, some has been received and some not,” said Morton.
He asked the commissioners for permission to refund those who have paid and void the invoices which have not been paid yet.
The board unanimously approved the refund and cancellation request by Morton, who added about 160 to 170 properties have been inspected as of the December meeting. He said 95 percent of those are being done by paid staff, with retired personnel helping on occasion.
In other fire-related news, the board of commissioners unanimously voted to appoint Commissioner Dr. Skip Whitman to the Fireman’s Relief Fund Board for a two-year appointment.
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.