Waste-removal complaints might lead to county fund

There is more solid waste piling up in backyards across Jackson County than money to get rid of the stuff.

As a result, county officials are studying a new proposal to create a $40,000 annual fund that would help pay for cleaning up problem properties owned by low-income residents.

"It's one way to help people who can't afford it," said Commissioner C.W. Smith. "It's a way to eliminate blight."

The cost would initially be borne by the county, but a lien would be attached to the property that would be collected at the time of sale. The county is looking at a 9 percent annual interest rate on such liens.

Smith said the county has been working on developing a program to deal with solid waste for some time. He said the county would fund the program through franchise fees collected from Rogue Disposal and Recycling.

County officials regularly receive complaints about junk cars, oil drums, heavy equipment that has fallen into disrepair, and other debris. Of the more than 600 cases county code enforcement officers handled last year, about 150 (25 percent) are related to solid waste complaints.

"It's really a program to help with these cleanup efforts for people who have code violations," said Kelly Madding, county development services director.

Madding said many of the people who need help are elderly. They often have health problems that prevent them from doing the cleanup and can't afford to pay someone to do the work.

When a complaint is reported to the county, code enforcement officers can cite the property owners, leading to a fine of $600, or as much as $10,000 for a continuing violation.

Madding said the goal for code enforcement is to have the property cleaned up, not to collect a fine.

The proposal for the new program to help low-income residents was revealed to county commissioners Tuesday.

"It's better than what we have now — nothing," said Madding.

Property owners, including seniors, would be considered low income under criteria established by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Madding said that a citation would be given to a property owner, who would then have enough time to enter into a written contract with the county for clean up.

If the work is completed before the matter goes before the county hearings officer the fine would be avoided, said Madding.

The county will be working on contracts for the junk haulers as well as for the property owner that spell out the legal language of the lien and what needs to be accomplished in the cleanup effort.

Lissa Davis, county code enforcement manager, said there will be no problem finding people who cannot afford to pay for the cleanup. She estimates that about one-quarter of the solid waste cases might benefit from the proposed program.

Davis couldn't say how many properties could be cleaned up with the available money.

She said the county needs to change its definition of solid waste to keep up with new products like electronic equipment that are accumulating in some places.

Davis said some properties she's visited have generations of junk that have been collected over 50 years. In many cases, she said, no fine is levied, and she would prefer to avoid giving one.

"We want compliance — that is the bottom line," she said. "We will work with people as long as we see substantial progress."

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.

Share This Story