City seeks power to crack down on scofflaws

Proposed ordinance would allow an ‘action of equity’

City Council on Wednesday introduced an ordinance that, if adopted, could help ensure against scofflaws flouting the city’s authority indefinitely.

The proposed ordinance would allow the city to file an “action in equity” — a complaint in the county Court of Common Pleas, asking for an injunction to prevent or an order to require a desired action so that it can obtain compliance in knotty cases from violators of any city ordinance or the city code.

Without the new power, the city must rely on actions before magisterial district judges who can only impose fines, which scofflaws can ignore, solicitor Larry Clapper said.

The proposed new power is available under state law as a result of the city’s being under home rule, Clapper said.

The power was not permitted under the state’s Third Class City Code, under which the city operated prior to adopting its home rule charter, which the voters approved in 2014, according to Clapper.

Townships have the power without adopting home rule, based on that state’s Second Class Township Code, Clapper said.

Logan Township used the power in the late 1980s, resulting in a Blair County judge jailing a resident who collected rubbish on his property and refused to have it removed, Clapper said.

The proposed new ordinance would be “another arrow in the quiver” for Altoona, Clapper said.

The ordinance introduction was a late entry on the agenda of Wednesday’s meeting, and it led to some puzzlement at first.

After looking over the introduction language, which says little to indicate the purpose of the proposed new measure, Councilman Dave Butterbaugh asked for an explanation “in English.”

After hearing the explanation, Butterbaugh said it would have been nice to have when he was a member of the now dormant Blighted Property Review Committee.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.