Elgin is doing away with no-notice fines, the first step in overhauling the way the city goes about code enforcement.
Under the new rules, property owners would get a warning -- sometimes more than one warning -- before being issued a ticket, allowing code inspectors more discretion in handling cases.
City council members approved the measure at a special committee of the whole Saturday, after a presentation by Community Development Director Marc Mylott.
It's time to shift focus from issuing citations to eliciting compliance, Mylott said.
Mylott said he wants his department to engage in outreach about code enforcement via social media like Facebook and Twitter, and public workshops and appearances at neighborhood groups.
Still, this doesn't mean code inspectors will be lax, he said.
"Under no circumstance can we have a program where scofflaws can get away with a slap on the wrist."
The city conducts more than 15,000 inspections and opens about 8,300 cases per year, although not all result in tickets, Mylott said.
The city has seven inspectors -- two assigned to rental inspections -- down from 10 inspectors before the 2010 staff cuts, he said.
Mylott advocated hiring more inspectors and contracting out rental inspections, but council members postponed making decisions that involved expenses.
"The goal is to avoid adding onto the budget, and technology can help us do that," said Councilman John Steffen, who also called Mylott's plan "impressive."
The 2014 budget includes about $90,000 for additional staff in the community development department, Elgin Chief Financial Officer Colleen Lavery said.
Mylott proposed setting higher fines for more egregious violations, such as restaurant owners spilling grease on sidewalks as opposed to residents having sofas on the porches.
He also proposed increasing fines if someone is guilty of multiple violations of the same rule.
Council members took no action on these proposals.
"There are some things that need to be flushed out," Mayor David Kaptain said.
Absentee landlords who don't check on their properties regularly are a problem, Councilwoman Anna Moeller said.
Councilman Terry Gavin said he wants code inspectors to address residential overcrowding.
Mylott also suggested doing an assessment of Elgin's 27,000 residential structures and 6,400 commercial properties every five years. Inspectors would not need to go on private property, he said.