Waukon City Council holds special session to discuss nuisance abatement procedures, follow-through and public expectations

by Joe Moses

The Waukon City Council met in special session Monday, September 11 for discussion of nuisance abatement procedures, follow-through and public expectation. This two-hour meeting with approximately 15 residents participating in person or via Zoom web-conferencing covered a variety of nuisance abatement issues and related topics, serving as an information sharing session for the council and members of the general public.

The meeting was called to order by Mayor Arvid Hatlan with City Clerk Sarah Snitker noting feedback received from a resident not available to attend the meeting. Snitker further noted that the person commented that they do not like parked vehicles on front yards and how that looks and that ordinances in place should be enforced throughout the community fairly.

The meeting moved into discussion of grass, weeds and other vegetation with Police Chief Paul Wagner providing an overview of the procedure used in notifying residents with property not in compliance. Wagner noted that residents are notified with an orange courtesy door tag if not home, when a face-to-face conversation is not possible.

Council member Kevin Johnson questioned Wagner about the amount of time between notification and enforcement with Wagner advising that it is standard operating procedure (SOP) to allow 72 hours per City Code before a City Park employee would mow grass or vegetation not in compliance at the expense of the property owner, which would be billed at $200 per hour at a minimum of one hour. Wagner further clarified that attempts are made to contact landlords if a rental property is not in compliance since the property owner/landlord is responsible.

Business owner and resident Gregg Jones discussed expectations relating to business properties and yard/lawn maintenance. Andrew Burke made note of expectations relating to the maintenance of grass and vegetation on City property by further noting that some mowing and maintenance needs to be addressed at the northwest water retention basin and weeds need to be removed next to the City of Waukon Street Department Shop. Jean Brink suggested that volunteers may be needed to take pictures of properties not in compliance.

City Manager Gary Boden and the council discussed the potential role of a designated City employee or nuisance abatement officer in identifying properties not in compliance and providing enforcement relating to these matters. Hatlan noted the importance of the City setting an example relating to property maintenance and weed removal.

Troy Gress with City of Waukon Park and Recreation discussed the practice of having wild-flower patches and tall native plants that have some storm water run-off benefits. Gress questioned if these areas would be considered a nuisance under city code. Boden discussed the practice used on some Wisconsin public lands relating to tall native plants and weeds which provide storm water run-off benefits.

Boden responded to a question relating to tree maintenance by advising that if a dead tree is threatening an adjoining property, the City can remove the tree if the property owner has not, but at the property owner’s expense.

Brink advised that nuisance abatement issues should be addressed uniformly and not only when a complaint is made. Jack Sweeney noted the importance of continuity in reporting nuisance abatement issues to the City Clerk or other City Hall office personnel designated to address these matters.

The council discussed the need to establish a specific point of contact for nuisance matters. City Clerk Snitker further discussed the complaint procedure available to residents noting that a form is available on the City of Waukon website with name and contact information being required. She said anonymous complaints or concerns are not forwarded on to the council.

Brink questioned Boden regarding the nuisance abatement responsibilities listed in his job description. Boden advised that much of his responsibility as City Manager is focused upon budgeting, economic development, among other organizational matters with a small portion of his time addressing nuisance abatement related issues. He noted advantages of a dedicated contact or nuisance abatement officer in focusing upon and addressing these types of matters.

From a budget standpoint, Boden noted an opportunity for a referendum next spring relating to local option sales tax (LOST) with one proposal being to allow an allocation from LOST to help fund police patrol vehicle purchases, which would potentially free up some budget funding to establish a nuisance abatement officer position. Hatlan discussed adding this position or role to Park and Recreation which would follow through on grass and weed maintenance. Maura Jones provided a recommendation to use the Iowa League of Cities’ nuisance abatement manual as a resource in establishing  a nuisance abatement program moving forward for the City of Waukon with a volunteer, council member or nuisance abatement officer handling this process.

The meeting moved into discussion of broken or missing windows and doors as nuisance matters. Sweeney advised that an announcement or public information relating to this and other property maintenance and nuisance matters will likely help improve these issues. Among a variety of other matters, Loren Fiet discussed an example illustrating the need for junk vehicles to be removed from properties. Wagner and the council further discussed the process of having junked vehicles removed from private property.

Snow and ice removal from sidewalks was next addressed with Hatlan advising that this requirement needs to be enforced with the first snow fall of the season rather than waiting until mid- or late winter. Fiet noted concerns relating to some residential properties without sidewalks next to properties that do have sidewalks, which he advised does not make sense.

The council noted that snow needs to be removed from sidewalks within 24 hours of the end of a snowfall, with the City then to clear the sidewalk at the property owner’s expense. Standards relating to the removal of snow on sidewalks were also discussed. It was noted that clearing a narrow path rather than clearing the full width of the sidewalk is not acceptable and not in compliance with city code. Snow removal in the downtown area and from sidewalks in front of businesses was also discussed.

During the Public Comment portion of the meeting, Wagner made note of the E911 Board Meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, September 13 at the Allamakee County Public Safety Center. The Waukon City Council special session then adjourned.