Supervisors discuss use (or misuse) of nuisance ordinance

Courthouse 1The discussion was spirited Monday morning as the Greene County board of supervisors talked about a draft nuisance ordinance for the county. The ordinance would simplify the process of requiring property owners to clean up unsafe or unsightly sites in the unincorporated areas of the county. The supervisors seemed split in their opinions, depending on whether they are town or country dwellers.

Greene County attorney Nicola Martino compiled the ordinance after looking at nuisance ordinances in several counties and in Jefferson, Scranton and Grand Junction. He was primarily looking for input from the supervisors as to what to include in the definition of “nuisance.” Instead, discussion centered on how such an ordinance might be used.

Under the status quo, Martino must bring civil action against a property owner in district court. The process is cumbersome and slow.

The proposed ordinance puts the county sanitarian, now Tim Healy, as “point man,” receiving complaints and issuing written clean-up notices. Property owners would appeal the clean-up order to the board of supervisors. If the supervisors agree with the clean-up notice and the property owner does not do the job, the county would take care of it and assess the cost on the property tax bill.

Board chair John Muir of rural Rippey was the most vocal in his concerns about the ordinance. “As a property owner, I don’t want every Tom, Dick or Harry who drives down the road to be able to call in and say ‘I think something should be done about that.’ That’s why I’m out there. I understand that if I lived in town, or on the edge of town, I’ve got different obligations,” Muir said.

Muir and Healy talked about farmers who accumulate equipment over the years, some of which is used only occasionally. It is often stored outside.

“There’s a difference between lining up some old equipment and keeping it in a manner that it looks like you’re starting a collection of these old things, or keeping it in a manner that it’s all just piled in there and there’s weeds growing up and trees growing up and everything else. There’s a happy medium,” said supervisor Guy Richardson, who is a town-dweller in Jefferson. “As someone goes by, even if it’s old equipment that someone is keeping for sentimental value or as a collector’s item, as long as you keep the area cleaned up a little bit, as long as it’s half-way organized, it shouldn’t be a problem.”

“You’re making that call,” Muir responded. “I don’t think you have the right to come onto my property in a rural area and make that call.” He said he is concerned the ordinance could be used as a “bully club” against rural property owners by people who don’t abide by “live and let live” rural attitude.

“I don’t think it’s wrong that we as a county have to go through a cumbersome act if it’s deemed these properties are to a point we need to do something,” Muir said.

Supervisor Tom Contner, who lives in the country, said he is not in favor of the ordinance. Supervisor Mick Burkett, who lives in the town of Grand Junction, said he thinks an easier way to deal with nuisances is needed. Supervisor Dawn Rudolph, who lives in Scranton, did not specifically say “aye” or “nay” to the ordinance, but she expressed concern about the number and source of complaints that could be made, requiring a lot of time from Healy and the supervisors.

There was no discussion of specific things to include or omit from the definition of “nuisance.” After more than a half hour of discussion, Martino was directed to begin a proceeding against one specific property on County Road E-53 west of Grand Junction. He was also asked to survey counties that have a nuisance ordinance to learn how often and how it has been used.

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