Salem council, residents at odds when dealing with nuisance properties

By Grace King, Mt. Pleasant News


Tempers were high at the Salem City Council meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 7 as the council attempted to address yet more nuisance properties.

Continuing the conversation surrounding Gary and Jane Roth?s property at 309 S. Monroe Street in Salem from last month?s city council meeting, the council questioned Gary Roth over why he had failed to clean up his property following nuisance complaints going back to July 2016.

Roth maintained that he had plans to clean his property after that conversation two years ago but ended up in the hospital and continued to have health problems throughout 2017.

The council cited that the vehicles needed to be cleaned up because they are spilling into the city?s right of way.

According to the council, Roth has 10 vehicles parked on his property. ?Even if they?re not junk vehicles, it sure looks like a nuisance to me,? council member Mary Hoyer said.

Roth, belligerent at the council?s attempt to mandate how many vehicles he could own, repeatedly told the council that it is not the city?s business.

Council member Chuck Kramer said it isn?t the number of vehicles but the permanent parking that is the issue suggesting Roth drive each one around the block and park it in a different spot occasionally.

Kramer also accused council member Feehan of ?picking on one out of a dozen,? saying he?s not the first resident in town to have an abundance of vehicles on his property.

Trying to find a solution to the problem, Feehan asked Roth for a timeline for how long it will take to clean up his property. Roth said he couldn?t give the council a timeline.

Council member Bill Wixom offered to visit Roth?s residence Wednesday to measure the right of way, which Roth accepted.

Council members again argued with Roger Warrington after he requested approval for a building permit on his 4.2 acres of property on Liberty Street in Salem. Warrington explained that the building permit was for his residence while he will plant a low-grass quail mix with black-eyed Susans and other wild plants on the other three and a half acres.

Warrington said the area is being grown purposefully for a ?little nature area.? ?No junk on it, no trash, it?s clean,? he said.

Feehan requested Warrington?s presence at the meeting because he was ?angry? when she tried to call to fix the long-grass problem. ?What I told him was you bought property in city limits, you have to mow because that?s the ordinance. That?s your responsibility as an owner,? Feehan said.

City Attorney Pat Brau corrected Feehan, saying Salem does not have a grass ordinance.

Warrington, who purchased the property in January, said that even though he is purposefully growing the grass for a nature area, the grass was mowed without his permission after a complaint.

After the council approved Warrington?s building permit, Hoyer said that because Warrington is planting something deliberately, it is different from just neglecting to mow the grass and that it does not constitute as a nuisance violation.

Hoyer went on to say that when residents question why one nuisance property is getting attention over another is simply because they?re lower on the list of priorities. ?This town has a lot of abandoned buildings that need to be dealt with,? Hoyer said, suggesting a town meeting in September to discuss coming up with a concrete plan for dealing with these properties.

In other news, Stewart Services was approved as the lowest of three bidders to demolish an abandoned house at 206 N. Main Street that suffered fire damage. The cost to the city is $5,600, including taking out some trees around the property.

Stewart Services also will take out the foundation and level the ground with dirt.

Other construction taking place in town includes culvert replacement on Liberty Street and storm drain repair on E. Oak Street.

The council additionally approved $15,000 to be spent on road repair, with the contractor suggesting the streets for mayoral approval.

Finally, Jodi Hilsabeck, a representative from the Midwest Assistance Program (MAP), a nonprofit that helps small communities, discussed Salem?s water expenses with the council.

A few years ago when Salem went from producing their own water to purchasing, it drastically changed their expenses, Hilsabeck said. ?Every drop of water that comes into town, you now pay for, which was not the situation in the past,? she said.

Hilsabeck implored the council to look at infiltration and old water meters to make sure they have checks and balances in place to cover water that comes into the community.

Hilsabeck recommended the council consider a three percent cost of living increase on an annual basis.

The next Salem City Council meeting is Tuesday, Sept. 4.