The Jacksonville City Council will soon introduce an amnesty program for those who owe fines due to safety and ordinance code violations. The program, which should go into effect sometime after July 1, lets property owners with liens older than six months be forgiven, so long as they correct the violations.

Kimberly Scott, division chief of Municipal Code Compliance for the city of Jacksonville, says that the program was created with the hope that property owners can use the money that would have been spent on fines instead on improving their home or business, with the eventual result of revitalizing otherwise neglected Jacksonville communities.

The plan was the brainchild of Councilwoman Denise Lee and was created after months of meetings that began in April 2009. Eventually, legislation was created in conjunction with the mayor’s office; the Jacksonville City Council unanimously approved the bill on May 25.

The council approved a similar measure in 2006: Those with administrative liens paid a reduced fine of 25 percent of the original lien. The $90,000 that was collected during that program was transferred to a fund helping low-income homeowners fix their violations.

This newer version will give 90-day amnesty to those with administrative liens, provided they meets certain qualifications. As Scott makes clear, there are some exceptions: “This is a one-shot deal for a property owner. If someone participated in the earlier program, they are not eligible for this program, and it will be the same going forth. I don’t know what the future holds, so I’m currently unaware if we will ever have another, similar, amnesty program, but if so — earlier participation equals ineligibility.”

Scott says that unsafe structures (such as those in danger of collapse) will not be included in the program and that acceptance into the program is contingent entirely upon the administrative lien: “Some people have nuisance violations, like massive yard overgrowth or an ample amount of debris or junk in their yards — violations like these will be included and will probably be more easily corrected. We wouldn’t give someone six months to correct a nuisance violation, but a structural violation takes time: A property owner would need to get a loan, secure a contractor, etc. We will take that all into consideration.”

Scott says applications will soon be available to the public and that more information can be found on the city’s website. But those with liens must be willing to make serious changes in order to see amnesty. As Scott says, “Lien removal is contingent upon full compliance. Simply filling out the paperwork is not enough.”

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