“Right now, when there’s violations to our wetlands we have no mechanisms to correct the wrongs, like we could in the Planning and Zoning Commission,” said First Selectman Gerard Smith during a meeting March 20.
The town has proposed an ordinance that would establish citation procedures and fines for violations of the Inland Wetland and Watercourse Commission’s regulations. The proposal was originally to be the subject of a public hearing March 20 along with changes to three existing ordinances. However, due to an error in the legal notice, the proposed ordinance could only be presented instead of the subject of a hearing.
Smith said although the issues the proposed ordinance would address are different, it is in the same spirit as its counterpart in Planning and Zoning.
The proposal lays out an escalating schedule of fines if a person is caught violating the wetlands ordinance. The first violation would draw a $120 fine, the second a $250 fine, the third a $500 fine and any violation after that would result in a $1,000 fine.
Wetlands commissioner Richard Minnick said currently the only option the commission has is to take the offender to court, which can be costly for the town.
“This makes it easier, all the way around, without paying expensive attorney fees, and getting the judge and legal department involved,” Minnick said of the proposal.
The proposed changes to existing ordinances that were heard under the public hearing concerned the local option tax relief for volunteer firefighters, the road ordinance and the ordinance establishing a land use committee.
Currently, the tax relief ordinance regarding firefighters gives the town the power to abate taxes for the spouse of a firefighter that dies in the line of duty, but doesn’t specify the amount.
“State statutes dictate that the Board of Selectmen does have the ability to abate any or all of the taxes for a firefighter or a police office in the line of duty. This one is specific to the firefighters,” Smith said.
Under the proposed change, the abatement would be set at 50 percent.
Smith said this change was brought forward after firefighter Kevin Swan died in the line of duty. Swan died on March 10, 2010 of heart failure while responding to a call.
Smith said the town approved a 50 percent abatement when Swan died, which was the only time this has happened in town.
“Instead of leaving it open we thought, at the advice of council, it was in the best interest, since we approved 50 percent the first time we had this happen, to keep it at 50 percent instead of an open number,” Smith said.
Officials are also seeking to remove the transfer of a $1,000 tax abatement to the spouse of a firefighter.
Under the current ordinance, a firefighter serving 20 years is entitled to the full $1,000 abatement and, upon his or her death, the abatement goes to his or her spouse.
Smith said having the abatement transferred to the spouse goes against state statutes and is removed in the proposed ordinance change.
A proposed change to the ordinance establishing a land use committee would lower the number of members from nine to six.
Smith said the town has had trouble finding people who want to volunteer for this committee which, in turn, is making it difficult for the committee to have enough members for a quorum, or the minimum amount of people allowed to hold a meeting.
The proposed change also states no more than four people may be from the same political party, rather than the current six, and that it take five votes to remove a member from the committee, rather than eight.
The board also discussed proposed changes to the road ordinance in reference to driveways.
“This was a twofold revision. It adds the road foreman and the building official working together to approve driveways,” Smith said.
Smith said the second change was a simple administrative change, but it allowed the town to assess fees.
“It previously read that there was a $25 fee, but we couldn’t assess fees with an ordinance without a fee schedule attached to it,” Smith said. “So this ordinance refers you to another ordinance, which then allows us to attach fees to it.”
A public hearing on the proposed ordinance to establish fines for wetlands violations is scheduled for April 8 at 6:45 p.m. in Town Hall. A town meeting to vote on the other proposed ordinance changes will follow at 7 p.m.