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Violation of state fire code may bring civil fines

By Karissa Minn
kminn@salisburypost.com
SALISBURY — Rowan County businesses and event organizers now may face a fine each time they violate the state’s fire code.
In a split vote Monday, the Rowan County Board of Commissioners approved a new fire prevention and protection ordinance.
Up until now, the Fire Marshal’s Office could address repeat fire code violations only by filing a misdemeanor criminal charge and going to court.
The new ordinance establishes civil fines for violations of the state code. It also clarifies local rules and inspection procedures.
Rowan County Fire Marshal Tom Murphy said about 30 percent of businesses in the county would be issued a civil fine now if the option were available. He said his office avoids using the criminal citation, and inspectors try to correct major violations before leaving.
The board approved the fire protection and prevention ordinance by a 3-2 vote.
Chairman Chad Mitchell said businesses are supposed to be following the state fire code as it is, and this adds nothing to it but another option for enforcement.
“I think it is less intrusive for the government to issue a citation telling someone to clean up their issue than to charge and arrest someone for a minor violation,” Mitchell said.
Commissioners Jim Sides and Carl Ford opposed the ordinance, which was given an unfavorable recommendation by the county planning board.
Sides said he attended the planning board meetings and thinks commissioners should follow its recommendation. He said the new ordinance, which took the Fire Marshal’s Office nearly two years to draft, isn’t needed when there is already an enforcement method in place.
“It seems to me that the staff would have been better involved in checking those 30 percent of businesses,” Sides said, “and issuing whatever citation was necessary.”
Under the new ordinance, a violation of the occupancy limit will cost $50 for the first offense, $100 for the second and $250 for any afterward.
Locked or blocked exits, or anything else that keeps people from quickly evacuating a building, will carry increasing fines of $100, then $200 and finally $350.
Parking in a fire lane, blocking a fire hydrant, failing to place hazardous materials warning signs or violating an open burning rule will cost $35, then $50 and finally $100.
The highest fine is for failing to obtain a permit for a pyrotechnic display, which will cost the violator $300 for each offense.
County commissioners have the authority to set other fines as they see fit, Murphy said.
The ordinance also allows inspection fees to be charged if a violation is not corrected by the third visit. Murphy said the first and second inspection visits are still free.
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.
Twitter: twitter.com/postcopolitics
Facebook: facebook.com/ Karissa.SalisburyPost

In other business

Rowan County Commissioners also:
• Delayed until March 5 a public hearing about a proposed ordinance that would ban the use of tobacco products in county parks.
• Delayed until March 5 another public hearing about requested incentives for Ei, A Pharmaceutical SolutionWorks. The Kannapolis company wants to add 154 jobs and invest $28.45 million in an expansion.
• Authorized realignment of the entrance to Blackbeard Lane, a private road located west off the 3000 block of Emanuel Church Road.
• Approved an EMS division request to declare four laptops as surplus and donate them to four ambulance franchise agencies.
• Approved a report of delinquent taxes for 2011. As of Jan. 31, the county tax office reported $6.1 million in unpaid property taxes for the current year.
• Approved budget amendments.
• Proclaimed March 2012 as Brain Injury Awareness Month in Rowan County.

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