Ordinance gives teeth to Washington County cleanup efforts

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 166 views 

A new ordinance passed Thursday night (April 12) gives a bit more bite to Washington County’s ability to require its residents clean up properties deemed “unsightly or unsanitary.”

The Washington County Quorum Court passed the ordinance during its regular monthly meeting.

The ordinance allows the County Judge to take action against property owners who do not comply with orders to clean up property that has been determined to qualify as “unsightly or unsanitary” according to limits established by state law.

The determination would come after a complaint and an investigation. If the property owner ignores orders to clean up the problem, the county can then pay to have the nuisance abated and charge the costs to the property owner. A lien against the property can be levied for unreimbursed expenses related to the nuisance abatement.

Two Washington County residents commented to the justices of the peace about the ordinance, which goes into effect 30 days after being published.

Tracey Kutchers lives east of Springdale near several properties that have received complaints for unsanitary conditions. Kutchers said that Environmental Affairs has tried to require the residents to clean up their property but they don’t fall under the existing junk yard or solid waste ordinances. She was visibly relieved that the new ordinance passed.

“I’m thrilled,” she said. “Environmental Affairs (previously) could give warnings but they had no authority to enforce them. “

Fayetteville-area resident Joe Maynard said he appreciates the need to clean up unsanitary conditions but is concerned with the definition of “unsightly.” He said that it would be too easy for the government to develop increasingly stringent definitions of what is unsightly.

“It’s a sliding slope,” he said.

County Attorney George Butler informed him that the conditions that qualify for unsightly and unsanitary are outlined in state statutes that allow for the ordinance.

The justices of the peace approved the ordinance unanimously, but that was not the case during the initial discussions.

JP Tom Lundstrom voiced frustration with the ordinance because it exempts agricultural land and land that is greater than 10 acres.

“Unsanitary is unsanitary,” he said. “Why exempt agriculture when it’s still the same problem.”

Butler said that the agriculture exemption is part of state law.

Lundstrom also said it didn’t seem fair to always go to the property owner to be reimbursed for abatement costs when it’s often renters who create the problem.

JP Candy Clark said later in the meeting that Environmental Affairs goes to the tenants first and that the new ordinance would be used as a “last ditch effort” to force properties to be cleaned up.

Rick Cochran also shared initial concerns with the ordinance saying that there are already ordinances on the books that should be better enforced.

“It’s unfortunate that we have to have this (ordinance) when we already have laws that should let us deal with it,” he said.

In other county news, the JPs voted to change their meeting date to the third Thursday of each month, starting with the June meeting.

The JPs also approved multiple ordinances that call for special elections for the level of annual dues for several local volunteer fire departments including Round Mountain, Wheeler and Wedington.