Josephine County Clerk Art Harvey said his office has completed verifying referendum petitions submitted last week to force an election on four county ordinances. The issues will appear on the Nov. 5 ballot.
The four petitions seek to repeal recently adopted ordinances dealing with nuisance property, enforcement of the nuisance ordinance, the creation of a compliance officer's position and invoking state laws as county ordinances.
On April 17, commissioners approved the ordinances. Before the ordinances were approved, violations were handled exclusively by citing alleged violators into Josephine Circuit Court. According to county officials, it took weeks to initiate an investigation, and sometimes years before legal action was taken.
Jack Swift, a Grants Pass lawyer and co-petitioner for the referendums, said existing state laws already address nuisances. He argues the rules create a new level of bureaucracy and make it too easy for the county to prosecute property owners.
Commissioner Keith Heck said there is a lot of misinformation about what the ordinances can and can't do.
"The bottom line is, this is a matter of trust," Heck said.
"Some detractors have called the county the Gestapo for wanting these ordinances and imagine public officials are going to be snooping in their yards for no reason.
"This is completely untrue. If people would just take the time to read the ordinances they would see there's nothing dubious about them."
All complaints of solid-waste accumulations or violations must be signed by the complainant and directed to the Environmental Health Office. Upon receipt of the complaint, the officer may send a warning letter to the property owner allowing 10 days to eliminate the nuisance.
Failure to comply is a class A misdemeanor that's punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.
"In case of hardship or extenuating circumstances, the Environmental Health Officer may negotiate an extension for compliance," according to the new regulations.
If the violation isn't rectified in the time allowed, the county can start abatement proceedings or pursue other legal remedies. A property owner can appeal the notice by making a written plea to the public health director.
The public health director can appoint a hearings officer not less than 10 days and no more than 30 days from the time an appeal is made. If the person accused of a violation doesn't want the case heard by a hearings officer, they can request a trial in Circuit Court.
Heck said people who have tall grass on their property should not be worried about the ordinances. People who are at risk for prosecution are:
- Individuals who have illegal drug operations on their property or have failed to clean up contaminated property determined to be unfit for use by the Oregon Health Authority.
- Individuals who dispose of waste at any place other than a disposal site.
- People who have abandoned vehicles, tires, car parts, refrigerators and the like on their property.
- People whose property poses a danger to public health because of impure water, inadequate disposal of sewage, garbage or other "putrefying" waste.
- People whose property emits a foul smell and entices bugs and rats that could transmit disease.
Reach Daily Courier reporter Stacy D. Stumbo at 541- 474-3806 or firstname.lastname@example.org