Feb 23, 2011
The Florida Times Publication of Voicent
Feb 23, 2011 - The Florida Times - Unions (jacksonville.com) published the following article regarding an innovative use of Voicent broadcast telephone software to enforce sign regulations and preserve roadside scenic views.
Message system for unwanted, illegal signs is working in St. Johns County
With new method, complaints are down by 97 percent
By Shakaya Andres
With a new automated phone system that reminds people as often as 20 times a day about infractions, St. Johns County has dramatically reduced the number of unwanted and illegal signs planted along Florida A1A and other roads.
Since code enforcement officials began using Voicent Communications in January, complaints have decreased by 97 percent.
From Jan. 1 through Feb. 17 last year, there were 32 new illegal sign complaints countywide, said Code Enforcement Supervisor James Acosta. This year in that time-span, one complaint was reported.
"The system can call them 20 times in one day and they will get 20 messages," he said. "I think they will start understanding."
Ponte Vedra Beach resident Clara Cowan applauded the new messaging system, complaining about signs like a real estate ad on wooden posts that stood along a road until it faded and started peeling recently.
"I think that's an amazing phone system," she said.
The signs are usually plastic with metal sticks in the ground. In Ponte Vedra Beach, most signs of businesses and people selling products are seen in the rights of way during The Players Championship in May, Acosta said.
"We have people trying to sell and get tickets to the [golf tournament]," he said. "They can't put up the signs and roadside vendors are not allowed, so that's a double whammy."
Code enforcement personnel input the phone numbers from the signs and the computer generated system automatically calls the numbers repeatedly.
When the system calls, it leaves a message until the violator calls code enforcement to confirm that all of the illegal signs have been removed and after officials verify the signs are gone. The system calls only on weekdays between 8:30 a.m. and 9 p.m.
The system relays a nearly two-minute detailed message saying that signs are not allowed in the county rights of way and that they must be removed.
The system was installed to keep up with numerous complaints from all over the county that signs were in the rights of way. Picking up the signs took a lot of manpower, code enforcement officials said.
Whenever officers went to a site to pick up the signs, they had to stop the truck, get out, put signs in the truck. When the truck filled up they then took them to the transfer station to separate the sign from the metal and place them in different bins.
"Rather than put in the man hours, we're going to let the machine do it," Acosta said. "We're trying to get innovative and come up with a cheaper way to do things."
The biggest problem is that code infractions often exist because people often do not realize what they are doing is against the law, code enforcement officials said.
Signs are not allowed on county rights of way, mainly because of appearance and for safety reasons, Acosta said.
"People like their scenic view, they don't want to be distracted by litter on the stick," he said. "It's also a safety issue; they could be hit by an oncoming car while sticking signs in the ground."
After receiving a written warning, violators are issued a citation. They are fined $118 for the first offense and $268 if they are a repeat offender. Those fees can be tacked on every day for each sign.
If that doesn't work, violators are ordered to go before a county judge and could be fined up to $1,000 a day per sign. Repeat offenders could face a stiffer penalty of $5,000 a day per sign.
"We've had companies in the past say we build into our budget to pay your fines," said Acosta. "They say fine away, and we say we will take you to the special magistrate."
Shakaya Andres can also be reached at (904) 249-4947, ext. 6319.
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