The Glasgow Courier - Serving Proudly As The Voice Of Valley County Since 1913

By A.J. Etherington
The Courier 

City Takes Aim at 'Nuisance' Lots

Turn to Misdemeanor Charges; Look To Strengthen Ordinance

 


The Glasgow City Council is in the process of passing a new city ordinance to increase penalties associated with weedy lots. Ordinance No. 968 will amend the city’s already existing weed ordinance to increase fees for non-compliance in an effort to increase compliance with the lot standards.

Currently, nuisance weeds are deemed any weed, grass, wild vegetation and any uncared for vegetation that grows to a height in excess of eight inches and any vegetation that poses a fire hazard inside the city limits. Under the current system, a notice is sent to the property owner and, if not corrected after a certain time, the city will use public resources to cut the weeds and bill the owner $150 for each cut.

Mayor Becky Erickson says that the current fee has not been enough to urge compliance with the ordinance. An expansion of the ordinance to include the misdemeanor charge of “maintaining a public nuisance,” which includes a fine and criminal charge on top of added fees to the city for cutting the weeds, will increase compliance with the ordinance and eliminate nuisances.

Property owners will still receive written notice of a violation before the city submits a work order for the lot, but if the property is not brought into “compliance” before seven days from the notice then the city will cut the lot. According to the city public works department, the actual grace period to cut the lots is usually around 14 days.

The added fees will go up significantly if the new ordinance passes. A first time violation will cost $250 for the city to cut. A second violation will lead to a $500 fee and a third violation will cause a $750 violation. Every subsequent violation will increase the fee by $250 for each removal by the city. If the fees are not paid then the city will assess the amounts charged on the property’s taxes.

In 2020 alone, the city sent a total of 41 letters to properties deemed in violation of the current ordinance. Of those, 32 fixed the issues on their properties; five were cut by the city and billed; three were still in the city’s timeline when the information was presented to the city council on July 6 and one went to the wrong address.

On top of the 41 letters sent, the city also took action on properties deemed to be a public nuisance under Montana Code Annotated 45-8-111, which states maintaining a “public nuisance” is a misdemeanor offense that carries a fine of up to $500 for each offense. In late June, city attorney Anna Rose Sullivan filed 18 complaints against property owners in Glasgow citing the code and accusing the properties of being public nuisances.

For a property to qualify as a public nuisance under the MCA it has to meet any of a number of criteria related to public health and safety; criminal activity; or impedes the safety of travel. The Glasgow complaints focused on the following passage in the law: “Any act that affects an entire community or neighborhood or any considerable number of persons, as specified in subsection (1)(a), is no less a nuisance because the extent of the annoyance or damage inflicted upon individuals is unequal.” Section (1)(a) states, “a condition that endangers safety or health, is offensive to the senses, or obstructs the free use of property so as to interfere with the comfortable enjoyment of life or property by an entire community or neighborhood or by any considerable number of persons.”

“I filed complaints strictly based on the Montana Code Annotated so we would achieve some measure of progress and success in the meantime,” stated Sullivan in an email to the Courier. “I exclusively focused on properties which have three components: abandoned houses/structures or vehicles/campers, nuisance weeds, and trash or rubbish.”

Of the 18 complaints filed one had complied at press time. All 18 were set to appear before City Judge Lynn Gilbert in mid-July.

“By enforcing the state public nuisance code and Glasgow’s updated nuisance weed ordinance, we are encouraging people to take pride in their community,” said Mayor Erickson. “To achieve that we need to first address those property owners that do not care for their property, homes, rentals, or empty lots. After achieving that step we can move forward for all to have pride in our community.”

Proposed Ordinance 968 will have its second reading at the July 20 city council meeting at 5:30 p.m. in the council chambers at the Civic Center. If the second reading passes the ordinance will go into effect 30 days after passage on Aug. 20. Public comment on the ordinance will be heard at the meeting.

 

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