Henry County considering solutions to ?junk? properties

By Grace King, Mt. Pleasant News


It?s a toss-up whether Henry County will begin enforcing future ?junk? violations and potentially shoulder the cost of cleaning up those properties or overlook the problem.

During the Board of Supervisers meeting on Thursday, April 26, Planning and Zoning Director Joe Buffington presented Supervisors with three properties, each with a photo from 2009 and a photo from 2016. From these, Buffington pointed out where piles of junk have increased, even past owners? property lines.

While Buffington didn?t reveal the location of the properties, he did say these are three of the most extreme cases in the county where piles are steadily getting bigger and not smaller.

?To start enforcing things is a commitment,? Buffington explained. ?If (property owners) don?t (clean up their properties) voluntarily, it ends in injunctions and the county cleaning it up.?

Buffington said that the complaints of junk properties are citizen complaints and that the county isn?t actively looking for violations, but if they are to serve one property owner with a violation of ordinance, they have to have a good follow-through plan for all properties.

There are two ways the county can tackle dealing with junk properties: through a zoning ordinance or enforce it through state code as a nuisance.

A zoning ordinance has a very clear definition of what a zoning violation would be and junk yards qualify under that ordinance. Enforcing properties through the ordinance would mean putting a lean against the property, which the county can sit on for a long, long time, Buffington said.

Filing properties as a nuisance is not as clear. With large junk yard properties like the pictures Buffington showed, he said he wouldn?t have much trouble proving them as nuisance properties. However, lesser cases might not be as clear and would be subjective, whereas a zoning ordinance is very black and white. Enforcing a nuisance would be put against property owners? taxes as a special assessment, Buffington said.

With both methods, there?s a legal protocol to follow with the county giving property owners notices with a time frame of anywhere from 30 days to six months for clean-up based on how much junk they have. Buffington said they would send property owners a definition of junk from the ordinance that lists everything they need to clean-up.

?That should generate a conversation to come in and talk to me, and we can discuss what?s really the issue,? Buffington said, adding that in most cases, junk properties don?t get cleaned up voluntarily.

Supervisors asked Buffington to write up scenarios of how each enforcement would work and look it over with County Attorney Darin Stater.

In other news, the county is going to consider alternative organizations to take on the responsibility of the Salvation Army Kettle Campaign each Christmas.

Coordinator of Disability Services Sarah Berndt said that for the last three years, the county has not received any money in the Salvation Army account. While she assumes this is because the bell ringers in Henry County are not Henry County natives and volunteers, she was unable at this time to confirm that theory.

Berndt said that with her county responsibilities, she does not have time to do a ?robust? Kettle campaign at Christmas and suggested offering the responsibility to the Fellowship Cup in Mt. Pleasant.

?They?re good at working with volunteers. We should transfer it all to the Fellowship Cup and let them be the voucher holder,? Berndt said.

?Give it to the Fellowship Cup if they think they can secure any money,? Supervisor Marc Lindeen replied.

Henry County uses money from the Salvation Army Kettle Campaign for transient individuals looking for lodging, gas to get through town and occasionally medication, Berndt said.