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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Police Will Enforce Yard Cleanup Rules

Issue Date: June 28, 2018

The Peshtigo City Police Department will be taking a more pro-active role in enforcing the city's ordinances aimed at maintaining and improving the appearance of the community, including grass cutting, and prohibitions against accumulating junk and debris in yards, including junked and inoperable vehicles and appliances.

Members of the city's Judiciary Committee agreed at a meeting on Friday, June 22 to a proposal from Police Chief Joe FitzGerald to designate Officer Derek Koronkiewicz to drive around the city, find out where the problems are, and start the process of enforcement.

FitzGerald has resigned as Peshtigo Police Chief to accept a position near his family in lower Michigan. His last day on the job in Peshtigo will be Friday, June 29. He told the committee he has been talking about the junk ordinance issue for some time with Council member Brigitte Schmidt, and wanted to get uniform enforcement going before he left

Schmidt is chair of the Judiciary committee with alderman Archer Leupp and Debbie Sievert as members. Also present for the meeting were alderman Mike Behnke, who serves as Council president, Public Works Director George Cowell, and Clerk/Treasurer Tammy Kasal.

Schmidt said at the start of the meeting they were there to discuss city ordinances aimed at keeping your property organized.

FitzGerald said he was glad to see Cowell on hand, "so we're all on the same page."

"We're here for junk cars, lumber, vehicles, appliances and junk in people's yards," FitzGerald said. He added that currently, when his department gets an complaint, an officer goes there to check, and if they feel it is warranted, they issue a ticket. Then the property owner comes to Council to complain and the ticket gets dismissed and nothing gets done.

"I want to make sure we're all on the same page," FitzGerald declared. "I want to make sure the same enforcement is done for everybody. Junk in yards is what we deal with, for example disassembled and inoperable vehicles and appliances. What I want to make sure of is that when we go to enforce this, when we send letters, they will be enforced."

He said people are going to complain, and for example they will ask, "Where do I get the money to clean this up?" and said where they get the money is not a problem of the city or the police. If the property owner does not comply with the cleanup order within a specified amount of time, the city has the cleanup done and puts the cost on the tax roll. If the property taxes are not paid in three years, the owner loses the property to the county for back taxes.

He said at a city where he previously was chief the cleanup orders went as far as having dilapidated old houses torn down, and cleanup for that went on the tax roll.

Copies of appropriate ordinances were provided to committee members. One spells out rules for setting out garbage and trash for pickup by city crews. Another states that no disassembled, inoperable, unlicensed, junked or wrecked motor vehicles, truck bodies, tractors, trailers farm machinery, vehicle parts or tires, or appliances shall be stored upon private residential property or unenclosed within a building upon nonresidential property for a period exceeding 10 days unless it is in connection with an authorized business. Thirty day extensions can be granted.

The ordinance provides for the city to get rid of the offending items and then cites penalties and authorizes various means of collection. Each item counts as a separate offense.

Ordinance 44-440 states whenever the police department finds any of the offending items stored in the open on private property they are to notify the owner, that a citation will be issued if they are not removed within five days.

If not removed within 20 days after issuance of a citation the Chief of Police or his representative is to cause the items to be removed, impounded and eventually disposed of, with the cost recovered from the owner or be charged to the tax roll.

A separate ordinance governs disposal of construction waste and prohibits garbage accumulation. This section, 38-25, states, "The accumulation or deposit of garbage, trash or putrescible animal or vegetable matter in or upon any lot or land or any public or private place within he city which causes the air or environment to become noxious or offensive, or is in such a condition as to promote the breeding of flies, mosquitos or other insects or to provide a habitat or breeding place for rodents or other animals, or which otherwise becomes injurious to the public health is prohibited and declared to constitute a nuisance."

Behnke recalled when the junk vehicle ordinance was adopted in the 1980s it was strictly enforced, and Thomas Strouf, who was Police Chief at the time, even went into people's back yards to find illegal vehicles.

FitzGerald said he has an officer, Derek Koronkiewicz, who is willing to go around the city to find out where the problems are.

He felt having just one officer doing this would be more efficient, and even though he is busy as a daytime officer, would have time for the task.

Behnke commented that problems with junk vehicles and other debris in yards is getting worse.

FitzGerald said people do not want to move into an area where they have to look at junk all the time.

He said it will probably take a year or two to get everything in the city cleaned up, "but if we do keep up, eventually we'll have a cleaner community."

Cowell said he has been responsible for writing letters advising property owners to cut their grass, and advising them about items set on the curb that his crews cannot pick up. He recently sent a total of 28 grass cutting notices, 14 one week and 14 the next.

He felt before moving too quickly they should get input from City Attorney Dave Spangenberg. He noted that the former Building Inspector was responsible for issuing notices for violations including junk in yards and long grass, as well as for dilapidated buildings and conditions needing repair.

Cowell said the city's policy has been to take no action unless someone filed a complaint. The only time he recalled having to pick up anything and then charge it to the property tax was once when there were items left at the curb that were not eligible for pickup, the occupant left town, and there was a non-resident property owner.

Behnke suggested they should also consider taking enforcement action against properties with building permits for projects that never seem to get completed.

"I've been wanting to get something done on this for a long time," Schmidt declared.

After more discussion, committee members agreed the ordinances as written seem to be sufficient for the enforcement process FitzGerald described, so no further action by the full Council would be needed. They agreed the discussion would be reported at the Council meeting on Tuesday, July 3.

FitzGerald said he will make sure the enforcing officer sets up a file as he goes around the city to see where there are problems. The file also will include complaints from other members of the public.


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