Granite Quarry board considers reducing which ordinance violators can face criminal charges

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 9, 2021

GRANITE QUARRY — Like most municipalities, Granite Quarry takes a blanket approach to which ordinance violations can be charged as misdemeanor crimes, but a new state law is changing that.

Senate Bill 300 will require municipalities to remove language saying all ordinance violations can be prosecuted as misdemeanors and removes the ability to prosecute some violations as crimes altogether. However, the town will still be able to prosecute some ordinances it specifies.

This portion of the bill is part of an attempt to address the backlog of criminal cases in North Carolina Courts.

Town Planner Steve Blount brought the board a draft list of ordinances the town would like to maintain the ability to prosecute criminally and those it would discontinue. Blount said he created the draft list of changes by going over the ordinances with Police Chief Mark Cook.

The requested list would specify criminal action could be taken for animal control offenses, youth protection, firearms on town property and noise. It would discontinue criminal charges for minimum housing, peddlers, public nuisances and junked vehicles.

Blount told the board municipalities can no longer create development regulations where violations could be prosecuted criminally.

The changes have to be approved after going through the town’s planning board, but Blount said he brought it to the aldermen on Monday so they could review the list before final revisions are presented.

Blount said the new legislation goes into effect Dec. 1. If the changes are not approved by Dec. 1 and a misdemeanor is filed for a violation, it would not hold up in court. Blount said the town historically has not prosecuted violations as misdemeanors, but it is good to be ahead of the game if it becomes necessary to do so.

Ordinances are usually handled in civil proceedings through citation.

Town attorney Chip Short said Blount’s assessment was on point. If there is a brief delay between the legislation going into effect and the ordinance updates, it is unlikely the town would have an issue. Short noted he can not recall the town pursuing a misdemeanor charge for an ordinance violation in the past, though the ability to do so means something.

Blount, who is also a Rowan County magistrate, gave the example of a practical reason to take a case to criminal court.

“If you couldn’t track the person down, you could come down and talk to a magistrate and take out a warrant on the person,” Blount said. “And the warrant could be served at any time the person turned up.”

There were no immediate suggestions from the board.