Whitesburg KY

New county law addresses litter, other nuisances

When the Letcher Fiscal Court tried to pass a “nuisance ordinance” in 2004, the measure was defeated after a small group of residents spoke loudly against it. Those who objected so vocally nearly four years ago were nowhere to be found last week when a revised nuisance ordinance became the county’s newest law.

The unanimous approval of the second and final reading of the ordinance means officials can soon go to work to clear the county of blighted and deteriorated property as well as junk automobiles and overgrown property.

Major provisions of the ordinance include attention to blighted and abandoned homes which are referred to as sites which promote infestation by rodents and have the general effect of endangering the health and welfare of citizens and lowering the value of surrounding property. Other matters addressed by the ordinance include fire hazards, property from which utilities have been disconnected, large accumulations of trash, junked or wrecked automobiles and mobile homes, and excessive growth of weeds or grass. Some provisions were made to accommodate businesses where automobiles are being salvaged.

After Letcher County Attorney Harold Bolling read the ordinance, Judge/Executive Jim Ward asked if the law would hurt mining companies or companies engaged in rebuilding mining equipment. Ward mentioned Hall Equipment and Enterprise Coal and said both often have equipment on their premises awaiting rebuild or salvage. Bolling replied that the purpose of the ordinance is not to affect businesses engaged in legitimate activity such as rebuilding. Bolling referred Ward to language in the ordinance specific to his question but Ward asked if Bolling could clarify it before the ordinance is published. Bolling said he would.

District Two Magistrate Archie Banks agreed with Bolling and added that the state has a similar standard. Bolling said the purpose of the ordinance was to get rid of wrecked cars and other nuisances littering yards and business lots with no legitimate purpose. with this,” said Bolling. “We do not want it to harm existing businesses. You can do what you want to with your property as long as it isn’t in the public’s view.”

“I just don’t want to create a situation where it hurts a legitimate business,” said Ward. “I want it to be clear.”

Bolling explained that if a complaint is filed, it will be up to a board appointed by the fiscal court to conduct an investigation to determine if the complaint has merit. Bolling said that if the board finds that a nuisance does not exist that will be the end of the matter. Bolling added that if the board’s finding supports the complaint, then a warrant will be issued.

Bolling said that after a warrant is issued, the person charged will have 60 days to clean up the property. If the property is not cleaned up, court action will follow. If the accused is found guilty, he or she will have 30 days to appeal the matter in Letcher District Court. If no appeal is filed or the District Court judge does not support the appeal, then the court may clean up the property itself and place a lien against the property to cover the cost of the clean-up.

“The Blighted and Deteriorate Ordinance is not intended to harm businesses,” said Bolling. “We will have to take these situations as they exist.”

The matter was addressed during the administration of former Judge/Executive Carroll A. Smith, but was voted down by a vote of three-to-three during the June 2004 meeting of the fiscal court.

The issue surfaced again last June when McRoberts resident Jim Scott asked the current members of the court if they intended to do anything to address blighted and deteriorated houses in the county.

After Scott spoke, both Magistrate Banks and District Five Magistrate Wayne Fleming agreed that something must be done to remove a growing number of unsightly and dangerous buildings from the county. Bolling then began to gather information on revisions in state laws dealing with nuisances and blighted and deteriorated property that would be used to craft the latest ordinance.

Bolling said the measure approved last week enables the county to remain in compliance with Kentucky state law while accomplishing the goal of getting rid of nuisances and blighted and deteriorated property.

The court also last week conducted the second and final reading of a revised ordinance that will bring the county’s tourism commission into compliance with state laws which have been changed since the original ordinance was enacted.

Bolling told the court that since the law had changed in the area of appointments, the court had to revise its own appointment procedure to be in compliance.

Bolling told the court that under current state law, the tourism commission should be composed of three members appointed by Judge Ward, one member appointed by the county’s restaurant association, one member chosen by the Letcher County Chamber of Commerce, and two members chosen after being agreed upon by the county judge and the chief executive officer of the largest city in the county.

However, said Bolling, since the fiscal court passed the enabling legislation without a cooperative effort from any of the cities in the county, at-large appointments are to be made by Judge Ward.

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