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Nuisance: Reality vs. theory


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Cutting waist-high weeds and hauling away trash from private property aren’t Baker City government’s highest priority, but after considering the comments from the Baker Justice Court administrator last week, we think the city could make those and other violations of nuisance ordinances a slightly higher priority.

The key message in Michael Finney’s presentation to the City Council is that the city sometimes enforces those ordinances in theory but not in reality.

Here’s why:

When the city’s code enforcement officer, Mark Powell, finds a violation, he first works with the property owner to fix the problem. Often that solves the problem.

But if not, Powell can go to Justice Court and request an abatement order. The order gives the property owner a certain amount of time to comply with the ordinance — by chopping weeds, for instance, or cleaning up accumulations of garbage. If the owner fails to do so, the city can hire somebody to do the job and then bill the property owner.

In some cases the city won’t recoup its expenses quickly, though — perhaps not until the property sells, which could take years.

Regardless, the clean up, in these cases, happens only if the city foots the bill. And with $6,000 in the budget this fiscal year for that kind of work, the city can’t afford to handle many properties. Finney told city councilors that a current order requiring a property owner to remove potentially hazardous trees would cost the city $10,000 to $15,000.

Finney suggested the city allocate more money for abatement work. He didn’t propose an amount, but doubling the annual outlay — from $6,000 to $12,000 — is certainly within the city’s means.

So long as the city has nuisance ordinances on the books, and is paying somebody to enforce them, the City Council has an obligation to try to minimize instances in which the code enforcement officer’s work yields no tangible results.

It’s a waste of the officer’s time, and of tax dollars, to have him obtaining abatement orders that the city can’t afford to enforce if the property owner refuses to act.