Rules exist for a reason

If your right to swing your fist ends at your neighbor's nose, then surely your right to pile trash on your property ends when it infringes on your neighbor's view.

One Jackson County resident sees it differently.

"You work for 35 years and they start to steal your property," complains Pat Nutting, who faces fines imposed by the county because he hasn't cleaned up derelict vehicles and other debris on his South Stage Road property.

In fairness to Nutting, who suffered a stroke seven years ago, removing years of accumulation is difficult enough for the able-bodied, harder still for someone with physical limitations.

In fact, county officials have bent over backwards to go easy on Nutting.

After initially contacting him in 2005 in response to a neighbor's complaint, code enforcement officials gave him until the end of 2006 to remove the junk from his property.

When he missed that deadline, officials gave him an extra seven months to comply with the order.

The $600 fine levied by a county hearings officer would have been suspended if he had met the Aug. 1 deadline. And Nutting may win still more time if an inspection shows he's done substantial work in the past six months.

County commissioners expressed sympathy when Nutting appeared before them last week to plead his case. Sympathy is certainly in order.

But we part company with Nutting's advocate, government watchdog activist Curt Chancler, who said the county shouldn't go after people who are doing what they wish on their own property.

"It would be different if this was hurting someone," Chancler said.

If Nutting lived miles from his nearest neighbor, it might not be. Unfortunately, allowing trash to pile up on one's property can indeed hurt someone else.

At some point, junk becomes a public health issue. Old vehicles can leak oil and other fluids that can contaminate wells and streams, and tires and other hollow items can be mosquito breeding grounds.

Even without the health concerns, run-down properties affect the value of neighboring parcels. It's tough to interest a buyer in a rural property if there's a junkyard next door.

That's why governments enforce property codes — not to violate the rights of an individual property owner, but to protect the rights of everyone else.

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