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Citations may shift to Magistrate Court
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Forsyth County News

Forsyth County commissioners are eyeing an ordinance that would allow the local health department to issue citations without having to take violators to Superior Court.

The citations could be handled in Magistrate Court, which officials say would streamline enforcement of public health-related state and local regulations.

District program manager Edie Parsons with the state Department of Human Resources said the system, which has been enacted in neighboring Dawson County, is "a win-win for everybody."

Parsons said Forsyth would be the second in the 13-county district to switch.

"We're hoping to take this to all 13 counties in the district," Parsons said. "It's really about enforcement. It changes absolutely nothing that environmental health does. The same rules are still in place."

Currently, those cited for violations enforced by the local board of health and state must take their case to Superior Court.

Commissioners have yet to vote on the ordinance, which they reviewed on first reading Oct. 2. The ordinance requires another reading and a vote before taking affect.

County Attorney Ken Jarrard said making the disposal of domestic sewage and food inspection regulations part of the county code "will make prosecution and enforcement more streamlined, less expensive and, quite frankly, even less onerous on those that are the subject of an enforcement action."

Magistrate Judge Barbara Cole said shifting the responsibility to her department "doesn't seem like it's going to be something that's tremendously overburdensome for Magistrate Court."

"I can see where it's burdensome for Superior Court," said Cole, adding that many of those cases take on a life of their own and become "full-blown lawsuits."

"It's supposed to save the time of paying the county attorney and it's supposed to save the time of the Superior Court for handling another lawsuit. Magistrate court does it by citation and we get it in and out of court."

Jarrard said county-enforced penalties would "still have some teeth."

If the offense is ignored after an initial citation, every day thereafter is treated as a separate citation and subject to a $1,000 fine.

"When we do have an enforcement issue -- and, quite frankly, we don't have that many -- we have to take it to Superior Court, which is lengthy and it's expensive for everybody involved," Parsons said.

"This would open up Magistrate Court," she continued. "We're not talking many cases per year.

"It's just that when there is a violation, it's extremely expensive and all that. So particularly with the financial times we're in right now, it's a real timely thing."