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Pictured, from left, are Buckhannon Mayor Robbie Skinner, Councilman Jack Reger, Councilman David McCauley and Councilwoman Pam Bucklew. (Photo by Lily Hicks)

City to expedite enforcement of property nuisance-related laws with new ordinance

BUCKHANNON – City officials are growing impatient with residents who don’t adequately maintain their properties, and Buckhannon City Council is poised to do something about it.

The Buckhannon Housing Enforcement Board has recommended that Buckhannon City Council adopt an ordinance that would strengthen and expedite the city’s ability to issue on-site citations to residents who violate city laws related to the abatement of property nuisances.

At their Feb. 15 meeting, council members reviewed a draft of Ordinance 466, which speeds up the city’s timeline for issuing on-site citations to residential owners who fail to maintain their properties.

Buckhannon Mayor Robbie Skinner said the ordinance stemmed from a conversation he had with City Recorder Randy Sanders and Zoning/Code Enforcement Officer Vincent Smith about Smith’s frustration with how long it took to issue on-site citations to property owners who fail to abate nuisances despite being warned.

“When we describe nuisance, we’re really talking about high grass, I think [not taking trash toters back] could possibly fall in that category, as well as porch furniture and household belongings that are scattered everywhere,” Skinner said. “It was taking 30 days for us to follow through with an on-site citation process, and for a neighborhood, that’s an eternity when you’ve got other neighbors trying to keep up their properties, and you watch months go by, and this stuff just continues to accumulate.”

The Housing Enforcement Board recommended requiring residents who violate ‘abatement of property nuisances’ ordinances to appear in front of municipal court within 10 days of being cited for property maintenance violations; the prior timeline was 30 days.

Skinner emphasized the expedited period would not apply to properties undergoing repairs.

“This is separate from actual building repairs – new roofing, new windows, things like that – this is just general property cleanup,” the mayor said.  

City Attorney Tom O’Neill said the faster process laid out in Ordinance 466 would apply to the following ordinances:

  • 244 – Buckhannon’s Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance
  • 357 – Abandoned and Junk Vehicle Ordinance
  • 367 – Housing Enforcement Ordinance
  • 375 – Junk Storage Ordinance
  • 404 – On-Site Citation Ordinance

O’Neill said Ordinance 466 – which council will officially consider at its next meeting March 5 – is “effectively an amendment to Ordinance 404,” the city’s most recent ordinance dealing with the enforcement of property maintenance matters.

“The way the ordinance is drafted, a person is ordered to complete the cleanup within 48 hours of being cited,” O’Neill explained. “Now, they have 10 days to appear in front of the municipal court, the idea there being that if they abate the nuisance within the appropriate amount of time and the enforcement official is satisfied, the judge could dismiss the citation if the problem was fixed.”

O’Neill said the municipal judge is not obligated, however, to dismiss the citation, especially in cases of repeat offenders. In another change, the ordinance also empowers the code enforcement officer and city police officers to issue immediate on-site citations for first-time offenders – not just chronic violators – should they choose to do so.

“It gives the person 10 days to effectively make the cleanup before they’re going to interact with the municipal judge and receive their fine,” O’Neill said.

Skinner thanked the Housing Enforcement Board for their input.

“This gives Vince important tools as we continue to work to beautify our city,” Skinner said.

Councilman David McCauley said he wanted to ensure the ordinance wasn’t adding or subtracting from the current laws governing property maintenance in city limits.

“I want to underscore one thing [City Attorney Tom O’Neill] said earlier in the presentation, and that is that this is not changing anything in the previous ordinances … we’re not changing the substance of the ordinances,” McCauley said.

“The rules, as they exist today, as not changing,” O’Neill replied. “Nothing stricter, nothing looser – it’s just a faster enforcement timeline.”

Earlier in the meeting, College Avenue residents Dr. Tim Reese and Mike McCauley addressed council about property owners, landlords, and/or tenants on their street and several others, who don’t remove their garbage toters from the front of their properties or from sidewalks within 24 hours of waste collection.

“The situation is a growing problem that affects the appearance of a neighborhood as well as the property values,” Reese said. “I don’t know if you all have noticed, but some of those toters remain on the curb all week long, and [residents/passersby] just use them as a dumpster out front.”

“I hope that this will be included in these housing enforcement recommendations or at least brought up when you’re working out that ordinance,” he added.

Councilman David Thomas responded, saying the city should not tolerate people leaving out toters for over 24 hours.

“They need to be embarrassed for what they’re doing,” Thomas said.

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