Editorial: Enforce rules or change them

What’s the point of having rules if they aren’t enforced? That’s a common refrain in discussions about government.

Case in point: the town’s rental code. Though poorly written, the section of the code that charges hotels a per-room fee has been on the books since 2007 — and town leaders have known for years that they were not enforcing those regulations.

The Town Board held a hearing to change the rules earlier this year, but its lack of follow-through in actually voting to enact the change begs a lot of questions. What other regulations are not being enforced because town leaders don’t think they deserve to be? What other sections of town code contain slip-ups like confusing “biannual” with “biennial”? Why weren’t these errors spotted earlier? Does the Town Board plan to fix this?

The town attorney’s office, as part of its duties, does periodic and ongoing reviews of the code to make sure things like this don’t happen often, if at all. But that office recently lost a full-time deputy attorney who has not been replaced, so one has to wonder if this isn’t bound to happen more frequently going forward.

The town’s code enforcement department is likewise understaffed, leaving its few employees able only to respond to complaints rather than proactively seek out businesses and homeowners who don’t heed the town code. A more adequately staffed department could have solved this problem, and others, sooner. (See: Dorado, Royal).

Town Board members agree that the poorly written section of town code pertaining to hotel rental fees needs to be changed and that  the fees should not have been collected for the past seven years. And the Town Board has a right to change the code if it so chooses.

But it’s still worth asking: Why has the town never even attempted to collect the fees it levied upon hotels? The town has a duty to uphold all regulations enacted by previous administrations, regardless of what current elected leaders think about them. And if the current administration does disagree with rules on the books, they have the power to change them.

Given the town’s questionable financial situation, any and all revenue opportunities should be considered. While the all-Republican Town Board has claimed that’s occurred every budget season for the past few years, it doesn’t seem to be the case here.

Picking and choosing which sections of the town code to enforce is a slippery slope. If members of the Town Board are not interested in changing the rules or enforcing the ones on the books, perhaps they should spend less time on the campaign trail — or not run for re-election at all.