After a unanimous vote Monday night, city leaders authorized the use of civil citations in city parks.
"We think this is a vital tool to ensure appropriate behavior in our parks," City Manager Maryann Ustick said. "Obviously this is a tool of last resort."
Before Monday's vote the city had its hands tied when it came to enforcing various offenses at city parks, including the Dog Park and Norriego Point.
Previously, the city only had the ability to ask patrons for voluntary compliance. Educational materials and brochures were given to folks to curb problems the city was having with park attendees leaving glass bottles, starting fires, camping, and trampling on the dunes at Norriego Point.
Under the new program, the city will work hand-in-hand with the Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office, which would actually be tasked with issuing tickets. In order for law enforcement officers to fine violators in city parks, a “penalty” section and “civil infraction” subsection were added to the proposed ordinance.
Fines for violations could range from $50 for a first violation, depending on the offense, to $500 for a third violation. All fines would be collected through the Okaloosa County Clerk of Courts, which wouldn’t cost the city any money.
For each citation issued, there is a $2 law enforcement fee, $3 in court costs, a 10 percent fee to the clerk of courts and a $10 filing fee. Based on a $50 citation, the city would collect a total of $30.50. For a $100 citation, the city would collect $75.50.
Citations could be issued for littering, use of glass bottles, overnight camping, boating violations, the use of fireworks and explosives and having your pet on the beach just to name a few examples. Other examples of violations include bicycle violations (leaving bicycle on ground where someone could trip), recreational activities violations (swimming between sunset and sunrise), hours of use violations, and for violating the rules for holding a special event.
As the man who originally dubbed Norriego Point "The Wild, Wild West," Councilman Jim Wood is pleased to see the city now has the ability to fine scofflaws, if needed. For Wood, the idea is still to push forward with educating park-goers first and foremost.
"This doesn't mean we have to write tickets left and right," he told The Log Tuesday morning. "It's all about education, but this lets people know we have the ability to do so, which changes the ball game."