Council pursues new method for bylaw infractions

Would be an alternative to going to court

District of Houston offices. (File photo/Houston Today)

District of Houston offices. (File photo/Houston Today)

An alternative to having bylaw disputes end up in court is being pursued by the District of Houston.

Following up on a council resolution from August, district staffers are now preparing the necessary paperwork for council’s consideration to have the District to join up with the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako’s bylaw adjudication system.

It’s a non-judicial approach intended to be less expensive than a court setting and more nimble in dealing with tickets for minor bylaw infractions.

The District of Houston, as with other local governments, uses what is called a Municipal Ticket Information system, that can cost several thousands of dollars for every ticket taken to a court and that acts as a deterrent.

A Bylaw Dispute Adjudication system, on the other hand, “reduces the demand on the court system, is less expensive to administer than the court process, and is a better balance between the amount of the penalty imposed (at a maximum set by regulation, currently $500) and the cost of pursuing the bylaw contravention in court,” a four-page memo from bylaw enforcement officer Darrell Hill presented to council Dec. 7 indicated.

The system features first a screening officer who would have the authority to dismiss a bylaw infraction ticket if they believe the infraction did not occur or seek payment from the person given the infraction ticket.

If the screening officer believes a ticket cancellation or agreement to pay are not possible and the person still wishes to dispute the ticket, a second person called an adjudicator chosen from a list provided by the provincial government becomes involved.

“Local governments decide how many adjudication hearings to hold in a year and set the schedule themselves,” wrote Hill.

“At the adjudication hearing the adjudicators hears from both the disputant and the local government to decide whether they are satisfied that the contravention occurred as alleged.”

The adjudicator can review submitted documents and hear from people either in person or over the phone. All hearings are open to the public.

“The function of the adjudicator is to strictly to confirm or cancel the bylaw notice,” Hill wrote. “The adjudicator has no discretion to reduce or waive the fine amount or jurisdiction to deal with challenges to the bylaw or other legal issues.”

The regional district and local governments split the costs of the adjudication system, something that aids in affordability.