The Ottumwa Courier


June 11, 2013

Nuisance ordinance changes: nit-picky or too lax?

OTTUMWA — Changes to the nuisance ordinance are long overdue, but there needs to be some “gray area” where inspectors use discretion when issuing citations, say city officials.

One suggested change to the nuisance ordinance is prohibiting people from parking in the grassy areas of their front yards, said Health, Inspections and Solid Waste Director Jody Gates at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

“I’m still not totally sold on this parking thing,” said Councilman Brian Morgan. “I understand the reasoning behind it; I really do. But how do we enforce this? There are even things in this nuisance ordinance that haven’t changed since 1961 and we have those problems all over town now, so we’re not able to enforce those now.”

Gates said she doesn’t have additional enforcement tactics to supplement her proposed ordinance changes besides responding to complaints and notifying property owners of ordinance changes with door hangers.

“... the only way to go after some more of this stuff in the code is to add more staff to you,” said Councilman Mitch Niner to Gates. “If we can’t afford to add more staff to you to really go out and tackle some of these, the least we could do is adjust words you’re running into problems with to help you do a better job.”

Gates said education is just as important.

“These changes may not seem very quick, but they’re more long-lasting ... once it becomes not the norm to park in your front yard,” she said. “Maybe it causes people to think we’re lax, but most of the time we let people know what the problem is and give them time to fix it, not just show up and write them a ticket. We’re trying to raise the livability of neighborhoods.”

The prohibition on “bathroom planters” will remain in the code, she said, though Morgan asked that inspectors and officers use discretion when issuing tickets, just as police officers do with speeding tickets.

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