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Date of Issue: March 19, 2008

Duplex owner seeks reduced fine

Joe Hieronimus wasn’t bashful about his reasons for appearing before the Holmes Beach City Commission March 11.

He told commissioners he was before them “to beg.”

Hieronimus offered a hard-luck story to a sympathetic commission, and, by the end, commissioners appeared willing to consider reducing a $150 a day fine that began running on Hieronimus’ property some years ago. That’s partly because Hieronimus was one of three owners then and not involved in the management of the duplex when the fine that now exceeds $100,000 began accumulating.

The Terra Ceia man began his story for commissioners in 2001, when he and two friends, George Ellin and Richard Santia, agreed to buy a duplex in the 4800 block of Gulf Drive.

Hieronimus said he and Santia were silent partners, while Ellin worked with an Island real estate company to rent the property.

But renter interest in the duplex was not high and eventually Ellin moved some of his workers into the duplex.

The tenant-landlord relationship turned sour and reached the city in November 2005, when the code enforcement officer received a complaint that Ellin had terminated a contract with Waste Management for trash removal.

The complaint prompted a review of the property, which was found lacking a rental license, which is required in Holmes Beach. The code enforcement board levied a fine of $150 per day and gave Ellin 14 days to correct the situation, which he failed to do.

Hieronimus, who bought out Ellin in 2006 and decided to sell the duplex, said he was unaware of the board’s action, the fine and a lien on the property until last month, when he received a letter from code enforcement officer Nancy Hall.

He said his response when he opened the notice was “Whoa!”

“The letter took me by surprise,” Hieronimus said, adding that he quickly contacted Hall to inquire about the fine.

Commissioner Pat Morton suggested that Hieronimus’ issue wasn’t with the city but rather with Ellin.

“I can’t see where we can give you relief,” Morton said.

Hieronimus said he didn’t dispute the facts and he wasn’t challenging the city’s authority, but he was asking for leniency.

“It seems to me the penalty is a little excessive,” he said, adding that his friend, Ellin, has been going through hard times.

Eventually the commission asked Hieronimus to return to its March 25 meeting for additional discussion. Commissioners and Mayor Rich Bohnenberger said they wanted to research why the code board set the $150 per-day-fine and determine how much money the case cost the city in personnel hours and filing fees.

“It seems that $150 for a lack of license is pretty steep, but we have to talk with code enforcement,” the mayor said.

City attorney Patricia Petruff said the commission has the authority to reexamine the situation but, “If you’re inclined to reduce this fine, it needs to be an amount that doesn’t harm the integrity of your code enforcement board system.”

As of Islander press time, neither Ellin nor Santia had returned phone calls.