The Richmond County Marshal’s Office is seeking an increase in fees associated with the hundreds of dispossessions they perform each month.
According to Chief Deputy Scott Peebles, appearing before the Public Safety Committee Tuesday, the department is upside down approximately $525,000 carrying out the Marshal’s duties of residential evictions.
The Marshal averages 16 evictions per day in Richmond County, typically scheduling one per hour per officer. The shortfall is hindering the department’s ability to carry out its duties according to Peebles.
“The Marshal’s fee, just like the Sheriff’s fee, is set into state law. However other communities our size, such as Fayette County, have addressed the fact that they can overrule and change the fee because of the cost of the service over the years has gone up while the fee has stayed the same.”
The current fee to evict a non-paying tenant is $72 for the the initial dispossess, of which the marshal receives $25. The second step, the actual writ of possession, is $25 per tenant.
“What we are proposing is a $35 increase on the dispossess fee, so a total of $107 for the dispossess fee, and the writ increasing from $25 to $65.”
“We have four marshals who pretty much work full time doing evictions, but there are a lot more people involved in the process. You can’t forget about the clerical work involved just so you can get it served. So you know it’s actually a lot more people are touching this.”
Additionally, the body cameras the department has access to cannot be utilized due to the lack of funding for the data storage of the cameras. “It’s $80,000 a year to store the body cam footage according to state law and the certification requirements.”
“So the second year we would like to put $90,000 towards that so we can deploy the body cameras we have access to. We have the body cams but we can’t use them, we can’t afford the storage.”
After an eviction, it is the landlord’s responsibility to make sure the personal property is removed from the streetside. “Anyone can come and get it at that point. It is trash essentially. The tenant doesn’t have any personal rights to it once it’s been set out,” Peebles said.
“Well, it will sit there for three weeks and we’ll get a complaint or a horrible Facebook post ‘Look at what your marshal did, this trash has been here three weeks!’’.
Peebles says the resources simply aren’t there for follow-up.
“We want to circle back the next day and make sure the property has been removed. If not, we want to work with the landlord to make sure it is removed. By state law, once you set it on the curb it is technically trash.”
“The city has not addressed the blight issue in an aggressive way in the past four years. We’ve asked for five additional people to assist with safety with our evictions. When our officers go to serve evictions a single officer clears the house. So we want to fix that. And we want to circle back the next day to make sure the property is secured so we’re not trashing up the neighborhood.”
There are also needs within the department for additional funding according to Peebles. “The other resource we want to use to fight code related blight issues-illegal dumping, that sort of thing.”
“We have cameras put out where illegal dumps occur and eventually we’re going to a 24 hour security operation center. Right now a guy who sets them out gets an alert on his phone so if it’s 3 in the morning he isn’t getting it. We just want to be more aggressive in that area.”
Peebles’ request now moves to the full commission.