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Residents trash waste ordinance

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About 200 attends county's public hearing

By Rich Bauer, Managing Editor

Close to 200 people attended a public hearing that the Fayette County Board held on Tuesday to hear residents’ opinions on a proposed solid waste ordinance.
And most of those present were ready and willing to offer the opinion that passage of such an ordinance would be a bad idea.
In the end, county board Chairman Steve Knebel said that what has been presented as a proposed ordinance would not be approved, and that the idea of having any type of such ordinance may die out.
Knebel started the hearing – which was moved from the county courthouse to the Vandalia Junior High School gym – by explaining why such an ordinance was drafted.
He said that several years ago, he was receiving phone calls about residential areas, “trash piling up” and other nuisance issues that were decreasing neighbors’ property values.
“We looked into remedies – we had none,” Knebel said.
“This kind of got the ball rolling for what we could do as a county.”
About the document that the board has presented, Knebel said, “That is a draft, that is just a model.
“From that model, and your opinions, we will try to draft an ordinance. That’s not saying that that’s going to happen,” he said.
And even if the county would approve an ordinance to address nuisances at some point, enforcement would be “complaint-driven.
“We will not have a person running around checking properties,” he said.
Knebel explained that the board’s solid waste committee was directed to work with the Fayette County Health Department in drafting a potential solid waste ordinance.
Later in the meeting, FCHD Administrator Rhonda Edwards explained that when she started at her job about 5½ years ago, the health department was getting about 20 complaints about nuisances and health issues a year.
“It was getting to be about 20 a month instead of 20 a year,” she said. “The board (Fayette County Board of Health) decided that we should work with the county board (on this issue).”
Andrews said that a proposed ordinance for Fayette County was drafted after reviewing similar ordinances in Bond, Clay and Clinton counties.
The first resident to voice an opinion was Pat Washburn, who presented many thoughts that were echoed by others speaking out against the proposed ordinance.
Washburn said that while those currently serving on the county board may have one idea on how the ordinance should be enforced, “there are new elected officials, new permits, new fines.
“There are loopholes to everything,” she said, contending that passage of the ordinance could lead to the county requiring building permits and issuing fines for such things as burning leaves.
“This is no more than a shell game to me,” Washburn said.
The county is spending down the money it received for the sale of its coal rights, and this ordinance could be an alternative revenue, she said.
St. Elmo area resident Glen Mills pointed out that Knebel has said in the past that the county would not aggressively enforce such an ordinance. “Why pass it if you are not going to enforce it?”
Knebel said that if such an ordinance is passed, “90 percent of the people, this isn’t going to affect you one bit.”
Explaining why such a law is being considered, Knebel said the county had received complaints about an individual’s property affecting a neighbor’s health and/or property values.
“When you put their health at risk or you decrease the value of their property, is it fair to them?” Knebel said.
Vice Chairman Jeff Beckman said, “Not all of the board is on board with this thing.
“I find this ordinance obtrusive and expensive,” he said.
“I really think it’s going to cause more problems than not. The more authority we give government, the more rights we lose,” Beckman said.
Steve Runkel was among those telling the board that the ordinance is “vague,” and he offered an alternative to acting on someone’s complaint about a neighbor.
“Maybe they need to go over and have a peaceful conversation with their neighbor,” Runkel said.
Joe Hill recommended another alternative – offering assistance to those causing problems.
“We need to educate these people, train them and give them counseling,” Hill said. “Maybe do a campaign county-wide … with recycling and a county-wide cleanup, having a location where people can take junk.
About efforts to have people clean up the county, Andrews said, “We’re all about that.
“We just all recognize that there is a problem. I don’t know that it’s an ordinance – maybe it’s something else,” she said.
Cindy Moulton told the crowd about problems with a neighbor. “We have called the law, the health department, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency).”
She said that seven dumpsters were filled with junk from that property.
Because of her experience, Moulton said, “I am not for this ordinance, but I would like to see some type of village ordinance.”
Knebel followed with, “That’s where the complaint started – now you know.
“I wish there was a way to hit the extreme cases only. It’s something that we want to look at because of these complaints,” he said.
When there were allegations that passage of the ordinance would lead to county zoning, Knebel said, “This has nothing to do with zoning. This county has no interest in zoning.”
Board member Jean Finley interjected, saying that a proposal to implement zoning in the county would have to put before all county voters.
As he tried to wind down the hearing, Knebel said, “I don’t like the ordinance the way it’s drafted. Is there a potential need for something like this? Maybe, maybe not.”
He said that the issue was to be referred back to the board’s solid waste committee.
“They can either meet with the health department or they can come back and say, ‘This ain’t working.’
“If we have a second (draft of an ordinance), it will be well publicized,” Knebel said.
Knebel talked with Fayette County State’s Attorney Joshua Morrison and his assistant, Amanda Ade-Harlow, after the hearing, and during the regular board meeting that followed the hearing, the board voted to table the issue until next month.
At the September meeting, he said when the issue came up during the meeting, “We’ll see what happens. If nothing happens, it’s gone.
“If nobody brings it up, it’s dead.”
The solid waste committee or the health department, he said, could come up with another type of ordinance, and if they would, Knebel said, the board would again “be here” at the Vandalia Junior High School.