Residents fed up with loud noise and other quality of life concerns now have a complaint form right at their fingertips, day or night.
Southold’s very first online code enforcement violation form is “up and running,” according to Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell.
At the last town board work session, Assistant Town Attorney Stephen Kiely walked the board through the new form, which can be accessed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, online and from a mobile device.
Kiely credited Russell for suggesting “more enhanced” code enforcement efforts.
Although the town is still taking telephone calls about complaints during business hours, residents can turn to the online form on the town’s website even when Town Hall is closed.
There’s an announcement right on the Southold Town website, easy for residents to access, about the new, fillable form.
Information that can be provided includes a brief description of the complaint, the name of the property owner, address, the best time of the day or week to view the alleged violation, and if it involves a transient rental. Complaintants’ names, which are required, will be kept confidential, Kiely said.
The form will give updates on whether or not issues have been resolved.
The online form is linked to the email addresses of both Kiely and code enforcement officers, so they will receive complaints immediately.
The new part-time code enforcement officer works nights and weekends and will check the complaints, as will Kiely, he said, adding that he will communicate directly with code enforcement and prioritize
If a complaint comes in during business hours, a response can be immediate, too; for example, recently a complaint on overcrowding came in at 3:30 p.m. on a Friday and the matter was dealt with instantaneously, with the part-time code enforcement officer instituting a stop work order during non-business hours over the weekend.
“It was the first time in the town’s history we were able to issue a ticket on a weekend, a Saturday,” Kiely said. “The homeowner was in Monday, asking for forgiveness. It was a success.”
Southold Town Police Chief Martin Flatley is also “in the loop” in regard to the emails, Kiely said.
Councilwoman Jill Doherty expressed concern for code enforcement officers that might need backup; she asked what they could do if a subject became violent, and said perhaps the town’s police dispatchers might be given the coordinates if a code enforcement officer was heading out on a call.
“I’m worried about the safety of our employees,” Doherty said.
Councilman Jim Dinizio said if there is a real threat, it’s a criminal matter, anyway; he and Kiely agreed the code enforcement officer should just dial 911.
For the first time, Kiely said, code enforcement officers are also given uniforms and badges so residents can take the position “more seriously.”
The discussion first came up at a special town board meeting in October, during which the town board was presented with Russell’s tentative budget.
During the discussion, board members asked about code enforcement. Russell said his tentative budget proposes the hiring of a new full-time code enforcement officer. Currently, the town has one full-time and has made a decision to hire one part-time officer; the new officer will bring that number to two full-time and one part-time.
In addition, Kiely then introduced the online complaint form.
The board said possible administrative help might be needed for the code enforcement department. As it stands now, Kiely said, if a phone call with a complaint comes in during the evening hours, it takes until the next business day before the concern can be addressed.
The code enforcement officer often has to listen to voicemail, and write all the information on a form. The new online form, which code enforcement officers could access in real time with iPads, Kiely said, will allow code enforcement to “bypass” that process with new technology and respond immediately.
“Code enforcement should be in the field, not in the office doing paperwork,” Kiely said, adding that the goal is to go paperless. Down the line, as the town becomes more proactive with enforcement, he agreed additional support staff might be necessary.
Russell said once a resident fills out the complaint form and hits “send,” all information will go directly to Kiely, code enforcement, and, at Doherty’s suggestion, to the police.
“This will allow us to act quickly on complaints,” Russell said. “Typically if someone wants to file a complaint outside of working hours, they have to wait until Monday morning.”
Depending on the nature of the complaint, Russell said sometimes, residents can call the police department directly. “But people are hesitant to do that,” he said. “This online form will allow us to evaluate the complaint, what action needs to be taken immediately and which officers should be engaged to act on it.”
The Greenport Village board recently discussed setting up a similar code enforcement complaint hot line.