May 2, 2013 | Vol. 117 -- No. 2

Cheney Fire takes on code enforcement duties

One of the Cheney’s solutions to closing a $700,000 loss in state revenue without the need for large layoffs or taxes in its 2013 budget was to rearrange duties.

In other words, some departments are wearing more hats, and one of those is the Fire Department, which has taken on the job of code enforcement in the city. Specifically, the department is looking at things like lawns not being kept up, weeds getting out of control, yard and garden debris and trash piles, materials like appliances and furniture dumped in yards and alleys as well as junk vehicles.

“We’re just looking for people to take care of their yards per community standards,” Fire Chief Mike Winters said. “We’re not looking to make the cover of Architect’s Digest.”

Nuisances are found in Chapter 19.18 of the city’s municipal code, online at www.cityofcheney.org under “Laws and Regulations.” Previously the Community Development Department handled enforcement, but to close the budget gap the city laid off the enforcement officer and assigned the task to Winters, who will be doing the work himself.

Winters said he has divided the city into four quadrants, taking each quadrant one week at a time in order to cover the entire city each month. So far, he said the city looks pretty good, with many residents, some of whom had received letters of abatement, taking advantage of Cheney’s fourth annual Clean Sweep program April 20 to get rid of debris.

What defines a nuisance can sometimes be debated, but for the city’s purposes, those definitions are found under Chapter 19.18.020, ranging from conditions that “annoys, injures, or endangers the comfort, repose, health or safety of others” through offending the senses to “obstructs the free use of property so as to essentially interfere with the comfortable enjoyment of life and property.”

Some designated nuisances (19.18.050) are obvious, like leaving trash around that will attract rodents, vermin and insects or create foul odors. Others are not so obvious, such as the prohibition on allowing one’s grass to exceed 10 inches in height, or any “rank vegetable growth which exudes unpleasant or noxious odors.”

Indoor furniture that’s moved outdoors – a common practice in the hot summer months – is also a no-no, as is discarding old mattresses, box springs or other appliances in one’s yard or in the alleyways. Junk cars, those three years old or older, extensively damaged, deemed “apparently inoperable and with an approximate fair market value equal only to the approximate value of the scrap value” are also considered nuisances under the code.

Winters said code enforcement takes on some urgency about this time of year as university students moving out for the summer, or for good, often leave items they don’t want alongside the home or apartment. A lot of the rentals also have absentee owners, sometimes not living on this side of the state, and don’t get around to policing their property. There are also those who don’t feel the need to keep up their property, often renters who don’t realize it’s part of their rental contract to maintain the property, but sometimes property owners as well, Winters added.

If a property is judged to be in violation, the abatement process is one of several steps, beginning with issuing of a warning notice listing the violation and corrective actions needed.

Winters said they understand sometimes there are extenuating circumstances why owners or renters aren’t able to maintain the property, and are more than willing to work with them to take care of the situation, providing information on disposal or clean up resources or just allowing more time.

“The last thing we want to do is hand out a citation,” Winters said.

If corrective action doesn’t take place after the warning, Winters said they’ll give the issue a few more days. After that, something will be done, likely starting with a $250 fine that can increase if the situation doesn’t change or gets worse.

In some cases, the nuisance can become a danger to the community at large. Weeds that grow too tall and dry out in the summer or pine needles on a roof that aren’t removed change from an unsightly nuisance to a fire hazard.

“Someone flicks a cigarette and that can infringe on other people,” Winters said.

John McCallum can be reached at jmac@cheneyfreepress.com.

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