Tuesday, Oct. 5

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Is it junk? Your neighbors may think so!

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[OCT. 5, 2004]  Enough's enough. Complaints have been piling up and the junk sheriff is about to ride. He's set on cleaning up the county. He's been to all the post offices posting public notices, and when he starts his ride he'll be packing a weapon in the form of informal notices. Anyone living in an unincorporated area who has a mess on their property has a head-start notice with this information. So, it's a good time to clean it up.

The countywide cleanup campaign will be launched Oct 14. The effort has come about due to the accumulating number of complaints about junk in people's yards. County zoning officer Budd Miller said that he has a list of complaints that he is ready to act on.

The county zoning officer, the sheriff's department and the health department are all authorized to assess a property and lodge complaints against a property owner.

Miller has been in contact with the states attorney's office about prosecution against those who do not willingly comply with requests. Failure to comply with a first notice will result in a complaint filed with the states attorney's office. Then a formal notice will be issued. If given a formal notice, the owner will have 14 days to abate the problem. Formal notices will be submitted to the states attorney's office beginning Oct. 15.

If the matter is taken to court, fines could run a property owner $100 to $500.

Hopefully, people will clean up somewhat on their own and we won't have to go that route, Miller said. He has had a couple of people respond well to requests to clean up recently. One of the responses that he said he really appreciated came from a mobile home owner living on a pond. The property and home were getting unsightly, and the owners were given an informal notice.

The people called him and said, "If we paint it this weekend and clean it up, will you leave us alone?"

Miller said he responded, "Ya, if you make it presentable." And they did it that weekend.

"We're not hard-nosed; we just don't want a bunch of junk laying around," Miller said.

He said that he has gotten real positive feedback from people who have heard about the planned cleanup, "People want this." Some of the township governments have been calling Miller also, wanting him to do this.

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Miller supplied an example of a community sticking together and getting the job done. A Chestnut resident challenged whether his stuff was junk. The Zoning Board of Appeals called a public hearing and the residents really turned out, Miller said. Chestnut really got behind it, and the board was able to say, "No, it is junk."

What qualifies as a nuisance or junk?

Some things are pretty obvious, others maybe not so obvious to the owner. The county ordinance specifies what constitutes a violation. The following is an abbreviated summary:

  • Cars that are not running will need to be moved. If there's rusty, leaking oil, it needs to be cleaned up.
  • Abandoned mobile homes.
  • Unlicensed dumping of refuse.
  • Refuse from numerous sources.
  • Quantities of refuse that cause a smell, spontaneous combustion, draw rodents or threaten public health
  • Animal wastes (other than farm) are to be collected and stored in a fly-tight container.
  • Garbage is to be stored in fly-tight containers.
  • Abandoned refrigerators must have doors off.
  • Untreated sewage.
  • Out-of-control grasses, shrubbery or noxious weeds that may threaten public health.
  • Any condition as deemed by the enforcement officer that threatens public health.

Who is affected by this?

All unincorporated townships. That is everyone outside the villages of Broadwell, Elkhart, Emden, Hartsburg, Latham, Middletown and the cities of Atlanta, Lincoln and Mount Pulaski.

[Jan Youngquist]

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