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Cities respond to nuisance interest

Hancock City Clerk Jodi Bedel and city maintenance director Adam Hanson received multiple inquiries about apparent nuisance properties inside the city of Hancock. The two city officials compiled those inquiries of concern from the public and investigated. Bedel said they reviewed the entire town.

They made a list of 10 nuisance properties within the city limits. Examples of nuisance property includes property with unlicensed vehicles on lawns, lawnmowers on lawns, branch piles on lawns and other items on lawns.

The city then sent letters to the owners of those 10 properties to inform them the property was in violation of city nuisance ordinances. As of Aug. 14, seven of the 10 have complied with the ordinance and clean-up their property. As of a week later, one property owner is in partial compliance and two have not yet complied, Bedel said.

Hancock isn't alone when it comes to dealing with nuisance property.

"The biggest issue with this whole thing is who is going out and looking at stuff," Morris city manager Blaine Hill said in an Aug. 30 interview. "We do not have a full time inspector, so it falls upon the city manager."

Hill said he followed up on some complaints about nuisance properties in Morris on Aug. 28.

"I just finished with two letters," Hill said on Aug. 30. One letter will demand the owner of property remove the junk and garbage from the yard and finish the construction project on the house, Hill said.

A second property owner must remove chairs, mattresses and similar items from the property, Hill said.

Although officials in both cities have received reports of nuisance property, Hill and Bedel said they are pleased with the overall look of property within their communities.

"There is a lot of pride in the community," Bedel said. "We are so proud of where we live and we want to keep properties looking good and we want owners to follow the code."

The city, Bedel said, is not out get anyone who may have a nuisance property. And the recent letters were generated by public contacts with city officials, she said.

Although the city of Morris is now dealing with at least two nuisance properties, the overall problem isn't large, Hill said.

"Of all the properties in town there is a very small number of properties that aren't maintained," Hill said. "It's probably a dozen (properties)."

But when a city receives a question or concern about a possible nuisance property, the city can't just order the owner to clean up the property.

"There is a process to this," Bedel said of gaining compliance on nuisance violations.

Property owners will receive a letter about non-compliance that includes a timeline in which to comply. If the owner doesn't comply, a second letter would be sent. In Hancock, the city worked with at least one owner on gradual compliance.

At the Aug. 14 meeting, the Hancock City Council agreed to allow a property owner have untll the Sept. 11 meeting to comply with the city's nuisance code.

The goal is to have the property owner comply with city ordinances, Hill and Bedel said. But, the city does have the option to take the property owner to court for violating city code.

But that option takes more time and money, Hill said.

Still, it may be the final option when a property remains non-compliant.

"What I'm sensing is more people are complaining than they ever have," Hill said. It's not because the number of nuisance properties has increased, Hill said. The increase in complaints, he said, are in large part because social media has helped to create an era of instant gratification which creates expectations for complaints and response to those complaints, he said.

One complaint of the last week included the need for the city to trim the branches that hang over sidewalks, Hill said. The complaintant did not provide any addresses where overhanging trees were a problem, he said. The city does not have the ability to review all sidewalks to look over overhanging tree branches, Hill said.

City council members said on Aug. 14 they were pleased with Bedel and Hanson's work on the nuisance property.

"Keep it up," council member Bob Staples said.