New city nuisance codes—expected to be made public this week—will expand the range of infractions and provide a hearing process for persons accused of violating them.
The ordinances, if adopted, will also alter notice requirements to bring them into compliance with state statutes and case law, said City Attorney William Camm Seay.
But before aldermen vote on the new ordinances, they will be the subject of one or more public workshops in early July that could lead to changes.
“People may say this is too expansive, this is too offensive, this is too intrusive,” Seay told The Salem News. “Or the public may say, ‘Oh you left out this situation I’ve got in my neighborhood and we need that added.’ That’s why want to have the public comment.”
As the new codes are currently written, violations will include tall grass and weeds, junk cars, tires, noxious odors, debris left in yards and other eyesores.
These ordinances do not address derelict buildings. Those will be included in the next part of the process, he said. The focus now is outdoor nuisances that occur at this time of year.
Notice of violations will be made by personal service, certified mail, regular mail to an absentee owner or by posting a notice at the property being cited.
Current ordinances don’t provide an opportunity for citizens to be heard if they object to the violations for which they are being cited. That’s about to change.
The new ordinances provide for weekly hearings, if necessary, in front of a hearing officer appointed by the city.
It adds a step to the nuisance abatement process. “It’s not just a case of, if you don’t do it in 10 days, we just go fix it,” Seay said. “It’s a case of we must afford that citizen an opportunity to be heard by a hearing officer.”
The hearing provides a way to assure the nuisance officer has documented any complaints and proved his case. The hearing officer can review all reports and see any photos and a log of site visits before determining if a violation has occurred and how to abate it.
“And if you’ve not complied, we’re going to, on ‘X’ day, implement the work ourselves,” Seay said. “Now if we show up over there and you’ve already got it done, great. But if you don’t, we’re going to do it at your expense.”
That includes a standard fee for the work of $75 plus an administrative fee of $100 for time spent on the case by city employees like the nuisance officer, city attorney and hearing officer. “If you don’t pay that when we bill you, we’re going to put that on your taxes,” Seay said. The hearing officer is expected to be the public works director.
The two fees were adopted in a separate ordinance earlier this spring. Those provisions will be absorbed into the new ordinances.
“This is a pretty broad change,” Seay said. “I mean we’re going to strip away a lot of our current ordinances and replace them with these. This is not just a patchwork like we already did at the nuisance officer’s request. This is far more expansive.”
He added, “Constitutionally the public is more protected by these ordinances. Is it another cost and burden for the City of Salem? You bet. It is and will be. It requires the nuisance officer to do more, to have a report on everything he does. And it requires the director of public works to be available once a week and me, the city attorney, once a week to afford people an opportunity to be heard.”
Seay hopes to have the new ordinances approved at the second board of aldermen meeting in July after the public workshops are held and any changes are made. Aldermen have been fielding a long list of nuisance complaints and want to see the new codes enacted as soon as possible, he said.
The new nuisance ordinances will also apply to businesses like auto body shops, auto repair shops and used car lots. Seay recalled that the issue was raised by former board president Haydn Powell, who asked at his last meeting in April if those businesses would be affected.
“The answer is yes,” Seay said. “The situation here is those are going to be some of the ones that scream the loudest.”
Those types of businesses will be checked for vehicles that are sitting around inoperable. Some auto body shops, for example, are neat and tidy but others have problems, he said. There are also individuals with cars they say they are going to restore that have been sitting in their yards for years.
“Last year we did a very large eradication of junk cars in town,” Seay noted. “Did we get them all? No. Those were principally pointed at individuals, and we need to follow through on those, too.”
Once a draft of the new ordinances is released, it will be available to the public at City Hall for a small copying fee or via email in PDF form.