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Commissioners tackle west Mitchell nuisance complaints

A shorthanded board of county commissioners considered a nuisance complaint and performed last-minute tweaks to the 2014 county budget during Tuesday's regularly scheduled meeting at the Davison county courthouse.

With Commissioners Gerald Weiss and Randy Reider absent on personal, job-related business, respectively, the commission was left with a bare-bones quorum.

Commissioners John Claggett, Denny Kiner and Kim Weitala voted unanimously on all issues before the panel.

Sitting as the Board of Adjustment, the commissioners heard from Planning and Zoning Administrator Jeff Bathke, who presented an July 8 anonymous complaint about alleged public nuisance properties in the 1600 and 1700 blocks of West Third to West Sixth Avenues.

The complaint charges properties in the area pose public health hazards. They are loaded with debris, including old machinery, unused beehives, abandoned vehicles, empty buildings and huge stacks of firewood that could harbor skunks and other vermin, the complaint says.

The area is just outside the Mitchell City limits, west of N. Ohlman Street and the Highway 37 bypass, in the one-mile extraterritorial jurisdiction of Mitchell.

As such, the city has zoning authority in the territory, but it can't enforce city nuisances ordinances there, Bathke explained. That's up to the county.

County nuisance ordinances, however, can only address properties that are a public health threats, not eyesores.

Bathke said the report also noted a large number of feral cats in the area, but he saw no personal evidence of cats in his inspection.

Bathke said his tour found the properties were in even worse condition than the cluttered aerial photos suggested that were viewed Tuesday by the commissioners.

"There's some strange stuff out there," he said.

At Bathke's recommendation, the commissioners authorized the sending of registered letters to offending property owners, requesting a clean-up or a response.

The owners will have seven days to respond. A failure to respond will mean the matter can be turned over to the State's Attorney's office for enforcement.

Preliminary budget due soon

Auditor Susan Kiepke said the $12.42 million budget, which represents about a 4 percent increase in county revenues, must be given preliminary approval at the Aug. 20 commission meeting. A final budget is due in late September.

Before that happens, the commission will bring back Highway Superintendent Rusty Weinberg and chip away at a $3.4 million highway department budget. Last year's departmental budget was $3.2 million, Kiepke said.

Citing one item, Kiner said Weinberg will be asked to defend a 2014 line item request for $250,000 for gravel. The county paid $163,000 for gravel in 2011 and $148,000 in 2012.

Kiner said one reason for increased road costs was a 60 percent rise in the cost of asphalt over a three-year period.

Still, he's convinced some fat remains to be trimmed.

"In my opinion, I think we could trim about $500,000," he said.

Board of Adjustment

In other Board of Adjustment actions, the commissioners:

• Approved an application by Dan Mohr for a conditional use permit for an equipment storage building west of his home at 40916 246th St., in Perry Township. A permit was needed because an equipment storage building is not a permitted conditional use, principal use or an accessory use in the agricultural residential district.

• Approved a request from Jeffrey and Sherri Hanson for a variance of 9 acres to create a lot size of about 16 acres on their property at 24826 396th St., in rural Mount Vernon. A variance request is needed because the property does not meet the 25-acre minimum lot requirement.

The commissioners also:

• Approved plats of Wilson Tracts 1 and 2 at 25433 406th Ave. in Mitchell.

• Approved a plat of Lots 1 and 2 of JDH First Addition in the northwest quarter of Section 28, at 24826 396th Ave., Mount Vernon. Both properties were recommended for approval by the county Planning and Zoning Commission.

• Heard a quarterly report from Civil Deputy Kathye Fouberg, who said Sheriff's deputies served 783 court papers and collected $13,167 in fees from April to June. Fouberg said $5,713 is owed to the county for mobile home distress warrants, which are issued to mobile home owners who fail to pay taxes. When Fouberg took over the fund several years ago, the county was owed more than $50,000.

• Approved a $300,000 supplemental budget to cover remodeling, wages, utilities and supplies for the new north office complex at 1420 N. Main St.

• Approved a supplemental budget of $35,000 to update computer equipment.

• Approved a contingency transfer of $10,000 to pay for four court-ordered autopsies. The county is required to pay for autopsies that are done as part of police investigations.