City Nuisance Ordinance takes up bulk of special council meeting

Posted March 1, 2023 at 1:34 pm

Albany City Council began work on another issue that voters had apparently voiced concerns about during the 2022 election season, that being to “clean up the city.”

The council, meeting in special session last Friday, February 24, with all members present and only a small number of visitors, began reviewing and recommending changes to the city’s “nuisance ordinance.”

Discussions on creating a new ordinance began about two years ago, with one revised ordinance–No. 21-08-03, being drawn up and presented to the council, but did not pass.

The council in late 2021 again discussed the issue and recommended revisions, and a briefer version–Ordinance No. 21-10-05, was presented to the past mayor and council, but again, nothing passed, with members never taking a vote on the latest document drawn up by legal advisor Norb Sohm at the behest of the council.

In 2023, with a new mayor and council in place (with the exception of one returning council member), many new members said that aside from the water problems the city was facing, the need to clean up the city was the second highest priority on people’s minds during their campaigns.

The previous draft ordinances had contained language that included control of animals that were not penned, or running loose, and causing damage or possible threat to others.

During last week’s discussion at the special meeting, the animal issue–which involves primarily chickens, but includes all types of animals, was somewhat set apart from the nuisance ordinance, with the council basically deciding to create a separate ordinance pertaining to control of animals that are unkept and may be causing a problem to others.

Albany Mayor Steve Lawson opened the meeting by saying, “we need to discuss this before setting anything in stone.”

Councilman Junior Gregory, who had requested the special meeting to rehash the ordinance, said he liked the latter ordinance that was last drawn up, but with some changes made.

Councilman Reed Sloan, the single returning council member, asked, “If an ordinance passes, who cleans up the area if not anyone from the city?”

Brooks Ferguson, street department foreman who has first hand knowledge of the problem in his working position, said that if an ordinance “is not enforced, there’s no need to pass it.”

It was noted by attorney Sohm that it was not law enforcement’s job to clean up unsightly areas.

Ferguson also inserted that in the past, letters to violators had been sent out (as a warning) but did no good.

As far as the previous draft ordinance aforementioned, Sohm said the first one, 21-08-03 “blew up,” and the second draft, 21-10-05 never went anywhere.

Gregory then said there were some people who had farms in the city, and suggested the ordinance steer more toward commercial property. “We have got to show (in enforcing the ordinance) that we mean business,” he said.

Mayor Lawson agreed, saying that “everyone deserves a second chance, but it needs to be stopped at some point.”

Councilwoman Renee York asked who should file complaints and who should they be filed with when reporting a trash, or nuisance problem. She further suggested that those with a complaint needed to go to the mayor and in turn, the mayor and some council members go and visually look at the problem.

Ferguson then brought forth an animal related issue, that being several “loose chickens” in the west Albany area that may be labeled a nuisance, and cause damage to surrounding properties.

York noted that, as far as wording in an ordinance, if it were chickens, it needed to be clarified and pertain to any type animal.

Former city council member Sarah Wilson Browning, who has a farm just outside the city limits, noted “some (people) are not taking care of their animals,” such as keeping them penned up and on their own property.

Councilman Randy Speck also said he favored the latter 21-10-05 ordinance, the latest revised draft, “if it could be tweaked some.”

During the over one-hour discussion, it was also recommended that anyone making a complaint about a nuisance problem should do it in writing and present it to the mayor’s office, signed by the person making the complaint.

Councilman James Bray, although in favor of a city nuisance ordinance, said he would “like to hear more from the public…to hear their wants and needs.” He continued saying there had been some good ideas brought up to that point in the meeting.

Bray recommended advertising for more feedback on what people want to see in a nuisance ordinance.

The mayor then recommended the city draw up a complaint form for anyone with a problem they want to see looked into.

Wendy Holden, a member of the Downtown Revitalization Committee, told the council that under different mayors, there had been three separate situations of garbage around city businesses.

Councilman Gregory also mentioned a trailer that had been parked in front of a business for some time.

Mayor Lawson said he has considered having a 72 hour parking sign placed in such locations, and if not moved in that time frame, the vehicle would be towed at the owner’s expense.

Ferguson then said the trailer in question was parked on a state highway, but legal advisor Sohm said he didn’t think anyone would say anything about a parking sign limit since the area in question is in the city limits.

Holden then asked if the (draft) ordinance had been reviewed by the city police chief, and also who would “clean up” an area if the ordinance was passed. She also asked who would issue a fine to the business (or landowner).

Attorney Sohm said the fine would be assessed by the city, but if the property isn’t cleaned up within the time given via the ordinance, the city would take a lien on the property.

Mayor Lawson, himself a council member for several years, said that this situation has built up for years and years and had been put off and put off.

Browning then mentioned another location in the southwest area of the city limits that was not only unsightly, but dangerous.

The mayor said he would try and see if the owner would take the building down, adding if not, the city could put a lien on the property.

Legal advisor Sohm then inserted that particular problem was getting close to a health department issue to possibly look into.

The council then discussed the initial cost to property owners in violation of a nuisance ordinance, as well as the time given the owners to take care of the problem.

Councilwoman York suggested a $50 fine, or possibly $25. It was noted that other than a fine, the property owner would also be responsible for the cost of cleaning up the property.

Browning also suggested the council consider extending a 30 day period to property owners to clean up to 60 days, depending on their circumstances and whether or not they could get the work done on time, providing the property owner showed proof they have actually made an effort to clean the property.

Holden also said there were many properties where people don’t report the problem, and asked how those areas will be addressed without a complaint being filed.

Councilman Bray said he believes once the public is aware of the problems discussed, someone will complain, with Councilman Speck adding, “I think the public is behind us on this.”

Mayor Lawson further added those that don’t comply will know “that something is going to happen eventually.”

Holden then asked who would be held responsible if the properties were not cleaned up after the final 60 day period.

Again, it was noted the mayor (city) and council members could view the site, and further, the city has the option of placing a lien on property that is not in compliance, if a nuisance order so states.

As discussion wound down, it was noted that revisions to the ordinance–including several discussed at the meeting–needed to be put in place, with the exception of those pertaining to animals.

The mayor asked, “Do we need to separate (the nuisance ordinance) and make an animal control type ordinance?”

The consensus by council members last week was to split the two, and make a definite decision at their next meeting, when more discussion on the nuisance ordinance itself will take place.

Anyone with interest in the proposed nuisance ordinance are encouraged to attend the council’s next meeting with input and suggestions or contact the mayor’s office or any city council member.

The only other item of business on the called meeting agenda was a proposal to acquire a water leak detection company to help detect the numerous water leaks the city is experiencing.

At the regular meeting in February, Anthony Phillips with the city water department had presented a proposal on that issue, but Phillips, due to illness, could not attend last week.

The council tabled that matter until its next regular meeting in March.

Councilman Gregory said since that last meeting, he had checked with the leak detection company and the person who uses the device to detect leaks.

Gregory noted that Manchester, Kentucky, had the company on retainer for 21 years and during that time, the amount of water loss they had experienced since using the company had been reduced from 50 percent all the way down to three percent.

Councilman Bray also noted the city needed to consider hiring more employees to work at the water department, and Councilman Sloan also suggested hiring sub-contractors to help repair all the local leaks that are expected to be found, saying the amount the city could save in water loss would more than pay for the work.

The next regular meeting of Albany City Council is scheduled for Tuesday, March 7, at 5 p.m. in the conference room at Albany City Hall and is open to the public.