The North Bend Eagle


 

Council looks at new program to fight nuisances

by Nathan Arneal
Published 9/25/13

The North Bend City Council has long lamented its inability to efficiently deal with nuisance properties, so it is considering participation in a Nuisance Abatement Program sponsored by the Northeast Nebraska Economical Development District.

Tina Engelbart, a NENEDD deputy director, attended the Sept. 17 council meeting to explain the program and answer questions.

“We are promoting this program as a service we offer our member communities,” Engelbart said, “but without the political will of the city council, we can’t do it by ourselves.”

If the city signs up for the program, it would pass a nuisance ordinance drawn up by NENEDD and appoint NENEDD as the city’s nuisance officer.

One of the advantages of the program, Engelbart said, is that it is non-discriminatory. It will cover every residential, commercial and industrial property in town, and the person doing the inspections will not know who lives in or owns each property.

“It’s not complaint driven,” Engelbart said. “By that I mean somebody is not calling us and saying, ‘You’re the nuisance officer, I want you to go look at 100 South 1st Street.’ That’s not how this works.”

The nuisance ordinance would be very specific as to what kind of violations qualify as nuisances. That would include broken windows, abandoned vehicles or vehicles without current tags, overgrown weeds or dilapidated and abandoned properties. Engelbart said simply being an eyesore may not qualify as a nuisance.

“For us it’s a health and safety issue,” she said. “We’re not doing it to make everything pretty.”

To start the process, a NENEDD officer drives through to make a “windshield assessment,” of each property and go through a nuisance checklist.

If a property is found to be in violation of the nuisance ordinance, NENEDD sends the property owner a courtesy letter explaining the violation and what needs to be done to rectify it. The owner is given about 30 days to solve the problem. That deadline will fall on the day before a city council meeting. On the day of the council meeting, NENEDD makes another drive through town checking on the properties that got letters. If the violation is fixed, then that is the end of it and the city council never knows who received letters.

If the violation still exists, the city council is notified at its meeting that night and the property is declared a nuisance. Another letter is sent notifying the property owner and giving the owner another 30 days to fix the problem.

If a property owner does not agree that he is in violation of the nuisance ordinance, he has five days to request a show-cause hearing. At the hearing, NENEDD will present its evidence and the city council has the choice of confirming or rescinding its declaration of nuisance.

If the nuisance is not resolved after the second 30-day period, the city will contract someone to fix the violation and the property owner will be billed or their property will receive a special assessment.

If the city decides to participate in the program, it will set an annual budget which will determine how many properties are inspected. NENEDD will divide the city into quadrants based on that annual number and inspect every property in the quadrant.

To cover 100 properties in a year, Engelbart said a city should budget $5,500. North Bend has 570 properties.

Scribner was the first city in the Northeast District to enact the program. It budgeted just under $5,000 and had 107 properties inspected. It ended up spending only 76 percent of its budget in the first year.

Of those 107 properties in Scribner, 10 courtesy letters were sent out after the initial windshield inspection. The most common violations were broken windows in old garages and unlicensed vehicles. Of those 10 letters, all but one of them were resolved before the next council meeting.

The council and mayor seemed receptive to the idea of joining the Nuisance Abatement Program. Engelbart said she would e-mail the North Bend council members a copy of the ordinance. If North Bend decides to join the program, the ordinance would receive readings at three council meetings before being voted on. If it is approved, the program would begin Jan. 1 and would be reviewed and renewed annually.

In other council business
• Jerry Helget of Nebraska Custom Cover attended to discuss the problems the city has been having with the electronic marquee on the auditorium that he sold them. It has been just short of a year since the city bought the sign, and the city still does not have the ability to change the wording on the marquee in an efficient manner.

Helget said the sign did not include all the parts it was supposed to have when he received it. He has been unable to reach the supplier that sent him the sign.
Members of the city council expressed their extreme displeasure in how the situation has been handled.

Helget asked for 45 more days to solve the problem of the faulty sign. If it is not fixed by then, he said he would buy it back. The council agreed to the 45-day proposal.

• Beth Maline of Fremont was hired as the library director, replacing the outgoing Amy Williams. Maline, who is working on a master’s degree in library science, was hired at $10 an hour.

The day after the council meeting, Maline e-mailed the city clerk to inform her that she would not be able to take the position. Maline said her husband has been transferred out of the area and they will be moving soon.

 

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