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Commission eases housing fine

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Posted: Tuesday, December 31, 2013 10:12 am

The Williams County Commission decided Monday to impose a heavily reduced fine on the owners of Top Notch Services, those discovered to have operated an unlicensed RV park on 60th Street for two years without consequence.

On Dec. 10, the commission postponed charging more than $1.2 million in fines on owners Johnny and Carmen Iovino. After much deliberation, the board reduced the amount to $12,000.

Commissioner David Montgomery told Johnny he initially wanted to “put some teeth into our violators to get their attention, and I think we got your attention.”

A county zoning investigator first discovered the unlicensed park Aug. 13. Upon finding the violation, which included 55 RVs on the commercial property, he sent the owners a formal non-compliance letter, informing them how to navigate the proper official channels if they wanted to run the park.

Johnny followed up, requesting the Williams County Planning and Zoning Department grant him a conditional use permit for an RV park to house

employees free of rent.

The commission was backlogged and wasn’t able to hear the request until Oct. 3. At this time Johnny said he had 20 RVs remaining.

The commission recommended denial of the conditional use permit request. It was also recommended that all temporary housing be off the property by May 1, 2014.

On Nov. 5, Johnny failed to attend the county commission meeting that decided the fate of his RV park. Commissioners disagreed with the planning and zoning commission and told Johnny he must clear the park within one month.

The commission ruled the owners must pay two months worth of fines and that everyone in the park must relocate by Dec. 1.

This case was unique since the planning and zoning department usually imposes fines; instead, it was the first time the commission charged an owner.

Johnny said confusion ensued as he took the recommendation of the planning and zoning commission as an official decision. He said this meant he could keep his remaining RVs on the property until next year.

“I don’t know when I got mixed up,” Johnny said on Monday. “I wasn’t trying to do anything wrong. I want to obey by the rules and be respected here.”

The owners are currently in compliance, having removed all occupied structures from their property. They have also found housing for their employees at a neighboring RV park and are helping them afford new rental costs.

Johnny said he complied with the commission’s rulings and asked for mercy when considering their final decision on the fine amount.

“I own a little grading company, and I’m just trying to make it work,” Johnny said. “I’m just asking for mercy. I don’t have that kind of money.”

Commissioner Wayne Aberle said he thought the board was being “very fair” reducing the fine, which was determined through multiplying a one month occupancy rent of $600 by the number of 20 RVs on location in October. The fines will be paid through the planning and zoning department.

States Attorney Karen Prout said Johnny’s misunderstanding of the law didn’t sit well with her.

“People just have to know what the law is,” Prout said.

She also told the commission the owner for Top Notch Services has ties to numerous businesses in Las Vegas. According to the Nevada Secretary of State website, owner Carmen Iovino is listed as the manager or president and director of various businesses out of state.

Subsequently, Prout said she found Johnny’s claim that he didn’t have money to afford county fines, “a little bit ridiculous.”

Johnny admitted ties to a family business in Nevada, however, said he was given a chance to run Top Notch Services in North Dakota himself, where he could “try and make it on his own.”

In the end, Montgomery and his fellow commissioners stated Johnny had made efforts to remedy the situation.

“I would have no sympathy for you if you did nothing,” Montgomery said.

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