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Judge: City environmental court is working

NATCHEZ — The judge who oversees Natchez’s environmental court said Monday people aren’t coming to court in part because the court is working.

Municipal Judge Pro Tem Tony Heidelberg, who oversees the environmental court cases, told the Natchez Board of Aldermen Monday that the court has had only five sessions, and that while some property owners have been fined, the court seems to be pre-emptively effective.

The city created the environmental court earlier this year in an effort to tamp down the long-standing problem of neglected properties, litter, abandoned vehicles and other code violations in the city. The city’s code enforcement officers can give residents citations for the code violations, and if the problem is not corrected in two weeks it is brought before the environmental court.

“The majority of folks receiving notices are becoming compliant within 14 days,” he said. “To one scale, it is slow to a degree with the court, but on the other scale we are making progress in cleaning up the properties.”

The next court session is scheduled for June 17, and approximately 20 residents have been given citations to show up.

Heidelberg said as the court has continued its operation, he has taken an opportunity to observe how a similar environmental court in Gulfport operates and to help better coordinate the efforts of the code enforcement officers.

“We noticed our code enforcement officers are pretty much swarming around town without any kind of roadmap,” he said. “From now on, they will focus on one area at a time. Having one house on Morgantown Road, one house on West Stiers Lane and one downtown, that’s not productive.”

When Mayor Butch Brown asked if the court would one day become self-sustaining and generate enough money in fines hire outside crews to cleanup properties that the court had adjudicated, Heidelberg said it would eventually.

But Heidelberg said that even while he believes the court will support itself in the long run, its effectiveness might limit how much money it generates.

“We are faced with the one issue, that as we move forward, more and more people will be cleaning up their properties as we cite them,” he said. “It is not our goal to excessively tax the people of Natchez, but if they do not clean up their properties, we will adjudicate those properties quickly and fairly.”