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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Aug. 7, 201412:00 PM EST

Fines for illegal signs could increase substantially

by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

Just in time for election season, City Council will consider an increase in fines for “bandit” or “snipe” signs placed in the public right of way.

The Ad Hoc Committee on Neighborhood Blight directed the Office of General Counsel on Wednesday to draft legislation that would increase the penalty for one illegal sign from $50 to $150, for the second sign from $75 to $300, and from $125 to $500 for the third and each additional illegal sign. In addition, court costs of $50 per infraction will be assessed.

The legislation is expected to be introduced to council Tuesday.

Kimberly Scott, director of the Regulatory Compliance Department, said the current penalty schedule, enacted in 2010, does not cover the cost of enforcement and the low fees don’t deter many businesses that place the most signs along roadways and at intersections.

“Some violators don’t mind paying the $50 fine. They consider it the cost of doing business,” she said.

Council member Bill Gulliford said the fines are difficult to collect and suggested another penalty could be the city refusing to renew an occupational license if a business has not paid fees for infractions.

Scott said there are fewer infractions now than before the fees were enacted because ‘the public is more educated.”

Additional education about sign regulations is planned by the mayor’s office, said Chief Administrative Officer Karen Bowling. She said the city is working on a brochure to be distributed in printing businesses that produce the signs in an effort to make customers aware of the regulations.

The city has been attempting to eradicate snipe signs for quite some time.

Up until six years ago, the city hired employees to ride around the county four days a week picking up the illegal signs.

In June 2008, electronic warfare was declared with the implementation of a computerized telephone system that was programmed with the contact number printed on the signs.

The system would call the number and leave a three-minute message from the city about the sign law and why the number was being called. As soon as the call ended, the system would redial the number and repeat the process.

When the system was put in place, council member Ray Holt said tying up a violator’s connection with potential customers might be the best way to deter people from placing illegal signs. “We’re basically killing their phone system,” he said.

The next attempt involved an opportunity for residents to make some cash.

On April 5, the city sponsored a drive to pick up illegal signs and offered residents a 50-cent bounty on up to 40 signs. More than 6,000 signs were turned in at the event at EverBank Field.

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