County officials would like the same authority that cities have to clean up public nuisances and health hazards, but they want the public's take on the issue before voting on a new county ordinance giving themselves that authority.
The Jasper County Commissioners on Tuesday put out for the public's comments as a “public health hazards and public nuisance” ordinance that would allow the Jasper County Health Department to notify a property owner if they have what the county considers a public nuisance or health hazard on their property.
The ordinance gives the county the authority to clean up the property if the owner doesn't respond or clean up the nuisance, then charge the property owner for the cleanup on his or her property tax bill.
Norman Rouse, assistant Jasper County Prosecutor who acts as legal counsel to the commissioners, said the ordinance has no criminal teeth, just the authority to clean up the mess if the property owner doesn't respond.
“(We need this) For the same reason why it's important for Joplin to have ordinances about junk and dismantled cars,” Rouse said. “It's a health issue, it's a safety issue and we've never had the authority before, so we're trying to take advantage of it now.”
Rouse and Presiding Commissioner John Bartosh said a state statute that went into affect in August 2012 gave Jasper County, along with Newton and Dade counties in Southwest Missouri, the authority to enact nuisance abatement ordinances.
“We've tried to take advantage of that, we've tried to pattern our nuisance ordinance after one in Boone County,” Rouse said. “It's basically to give us some enforcement power with respect to junk, dismantled cars, dismantled manufactured homes.”
Rouse said rural Jasper County has a big problem with junked vehicles, abandoned mobile homes and other public nuisances.
“One of the biggest problems is trashed trailers, trailers that have obviously been abandoned and because of the cost of getting rid of them, people don't,” he said. “They abandon them and kids get in them, dealers get in them, manufacturers get in them. It's a bad situation.”
The commissioners all agreed about the need for an ordinance of some kind, but Bartosh and Honey said there are parts of the ordinance that still need work.
“Here's one scenario that bothers me or scares me a little bit,” Bartosh said. “We have a lot of people that rebuild antique cars and they might have six or eight of them lined up waiting for parts or waiting for the opportunity to rebuild them. I don't want that to be a problem.”
Bartosh said people need to read the ordinance and give the commissioners their feed back about how it should be implemented.
Page 2 of 2 - “I would hope that next Tuesday there would be several people because it's been a complaint ever since I've been involved in county government,” Bartosh said. “We'd want to clean somebody's property up and do something about it and we couldn't. I'm hoping people show up here to give us their opinion.”
Rouse said the definitions in the ordinance spell out the nuisances that would qualify for county action.
“I want to make sure you understand, these definitions are the guidelines,” Rouse said. “When we say something is a health hazard or a public nuisance, a dismantled vehicle, any vehicle missing significant parts such as a hood, fender, cab, door or trunk lid, if you have that, it would be considered a public nuisance.”
Rouse said the property owner can appeal to the Jasper County Commissioners directly for a final decision about whether or not they have a public nuisance and need to clean it up.
“These definitions dictate the violations, what's why I encourage you to review them and make sure you understand them because ultimately you are the judge and jury on these violations,” Rouse said. “Once it goes through the process, they cite someone for some torn up trailer, they say clean it up and the person doesn't and it goes through all the stages, they have the right to appeal that to you, the commission, and they have a mini-hearing here and you decide.”