Lehigh council listens to concerns, but passes ordinance

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
A nuisance-control ordinance was approved March 8 at Lehigh City Council following about two hours of discussion and concerns voiced by some of the 15 Lehigh citizens in attendance.

Ordinance No. 256-regulating junk vehicles and establishing costs and penalties-was unanimously passed by council members.

“This has been on the agenda for at least the past four years and even before I was on council,” said Mayor Ron Duerksen.

“That’s because we’re trying to come up with some program to take care of the challenges here. I’m hoping, as a community, we can work together.”

Martin Rhodes, part-time nuisance-control officer, was recently hired to enforce violations of ordinances concerning nuisance properties, noxious weeds and the proposed junk-vehicle issue. Rhodes’ duties were not scheduled to begin until a junk-vehicle ordinance was established.

Rhodes recently told Duerksen that one Hillsboro resident, who was asked to remove his junk vehicle, said that was not a problem. He would just move it to Lehigh.

Duerksen asked the guests if they wanted their community to be known as a dumping ground with no way of enforcing the removal of unsightly junk vehicles.

Each citizen attending the meeting was invited to stand up one at a time, discuss their concerns, ask questions about the proposed ordinance and offer recommendations.

Jon Meier went on record to say that he was against any zoning. “I feel it’s an infringement upon my personal rights as a property owner,” Meier said. But, he added that this was probably not going to stop council from passing the ordinance.

Meier also challenged Section No. 6 of the proposed ordinance granting the public officer right of entry on private property at any reasonable time for the purpose of making inquiry and inspection to determine if a nuisance exists.

“You can’t do that under the constitution of the United States Fourth Amendment and also the Kansas Bill of Rights,” Meier said.

Meier gave council copies of two letters from Attorney General Carla Stovall. “I have letters from the attorney general that state that you can’t do that,” Meier said.

“It’s been proven in the United State Supreme Court with several cases, one in 1967. You can have this in your ordinance-that is not illegal. But, you can’t enforce it. You have to either have permission from the property owner or a search warrant.”

Councilman Todd Jost countered that the proposed ordinance was recommended by the Kansas League of Municipalities, was used by several surrounding communities and was offered to council as a standard and legally correct document.

Meier’s recommendation was to strike the right of entry from Section No. 6. “Follow the letter of the law,” Meier said. “Either ask for permission to come on the property and do an inspection or get a search warrant, serve it and carry out your inspection.”

The issue of regulating demolition-derby cars in the city was raised by Scott Schultz, who felt the ordinance encroached on his right to work year long on demo-derby cars.

In answer to his concerns, council members discussed a proposed resolution that would set up a permit system for all untagged and unregistered vehicles in the city. Schultz agreed the permit system was reasonable for those in the community who work on demolition-derby and restoration cars but asked that council keep the permit fees as reasonable as possible.

Business owner David Terrell asked council how the proposed ordinance would affect the vehicles parked at Terrell Farm & Auto Repair in Lehigh.

Jost quoted from the ordinance stating the provision of the ordinance does not apply to any person conducting a business enterprise in compliance with existing zoning regulations.

“The very first sentence exempts your business from the provision of this ordinance,” Jost said.

Ruby Metcalf told council that working on cars was a family hobby and a safe outlet of energy for her children. But, due to extenuating circumstances, not all the family vehicles could be worked on in a timely manner, and it was too expensive to build storage to house them.

“One of the reasons we moved to this community is because it was cheaper,” Metcalf said.

“I think you need to consider what people can afford eventually. I think tax dollars would be better spent in improving the drainage system around town. I think you need to not focus on irritating the tax payers and try to improve the city.”

Questioning if the proposed ordinance was perhaps an example of harassment by the city, Metcalf’s husband, Monty, said, “A neighborly small-town action is in order” instead.

“You can visit with your neighbor and ask them to clean up their property,” he said. “In my opinion,the best solution is to not have it on paper. Deal with people humanely and talk to them.”

In reply to Monty, Jost said, “There’s been a lot of time spent trying to convince some people to be neighborly. And it’s fallen on deaf ears or been impossible. There are property owners who live out of state, and they’ve refused all correspondence. Something needs to be done about this. Without something like this (ordinance), we can’t do it.”

Chris Liles suggested that the proposed ordinance was discriminating against citizens who do not have the financial resources to improve their property and was similar to establishing a homeowners’ association.

“I want you to be aware that we’ve talked about six properties,” said councilman Mike Geiman as he addressed all the guests.

“I don’t think any of them live in Lehigh, and they do not care. We feel like we need to do something. When you write an ordinance, it has to apply to everybody. Mainly, what we want to work on at council is the people who just don’t care.”

After hearing the concerns from guests, council again reviewed Section No. 6 of the ordinance concerning legal right of entry onto property for purpose of inspection of possible violations.

Suggesting that Section No. 6 may be legal under the terms of probable cause of violation, council members agreed to vote on the ordinance. If the section needs to be amended after checking with the League of Municipalities, the amendment can be passed at a later date.

Council then voted and approved the junk-vehicle ordinance.

In other city-council business:

— City Clerk Rose Funk said Marion County Appraiser Dianna Carter-Frantz is tentatively scheduled to speak at the next city-council meeting. Carter-Frantz would address issues concerning a proposed neighborhood-revitalization plan.

— A part-time city employee was approved by council. Joel Ratzlaff of Goessel works for the Kansas Department of Transportation and has agreed to work about five hours a week for $9.25 an hour and $20 travel expenses.

Ratzlaff maintains a Waste Water II Certificate and would therefore be qualified to carry out duties with the city sewer system.

Council members were asked to propose other duties Ratzlaff could handle, such as operating the road grader and working on the city culverts.

The bids will be open for the city-mowing position, and Ratzlaff will be free to bid on that summer project. The ad for the mowing position will be placed in the newspaper so council can approve the choice at the next meeting.

— Preparing for summer improvements, council asked councilman Eldon Kaiser to purchase tools, such as shovels, spades and rakes, for the next clean-up project scheduled for Saturday, March 13. The city weed-eater has been sent in for repairs, and council approved purchasing a new chain saw.

— Funk reported she was looking into a State-approved program to collect delinquent bills by deducting them from any tax refunds.

— A sample resolution, in conjunction with newly approved junk-vehicle Ordinance No. 256, was prepared and read by Jost.

The resolution was designed to issue permits to owners of untagged and unregistered vehicles used for project cars. It was proposed that, for a period of six months, one inoperable-car permit could be issued per registered driver at a residence.

The amount of $2 was suggested for the first permit and a sticker to be placed on the car. For a second permit, the owner would approach council for review.

Council did not determine the cost of the second or subsequent permits and decided to table the resolution and discuss it April 12, after council members have the opportunity to get more input from members of the community.

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