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SUNDAY, JUNE 24, 2007

A no dumping sign with posted fine information stands along Eva Road in front of a lot filled with junk cars and debris. Morgan County does not have a junk ordinance like other counties have adopted.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
A no dumping sign with posted fine information stands along Eva Road in front of a lot filled with junk cars and debris. Morgan County does not have a junk ordinance like other counties have adopted.

Cleaning up country junk
Some counties tapping into state law to eliminate eyesores

By Sheryl Marsh · 340-2437

County commissions in 15 Alabama counties say that country life doesn’t have to include junk.

The governing bodies tapped a state law forcing eyesores and health hazards from rural areas.

An attempt to adopt a law to rid Morgan County of unsightly hazards and litter would likely fail with a tie vote of divided county commissioners and a wavering chairman.

Two Morgan County commissioners say they do not want a referendum that the Alabama Limited Self Governance law provides.

“I’m for the least government regulations we could have,” said District 4 Commissioner Stacy George. “I’m totally against home rule because it would be used as a political tool. Whoever politicians are mad at, it would be enforced against. I am for cleaning up, but this is the rural part of the county. It’s not the city.”

Some residents in the Lacey’s Spring area of George’s district have expressed dismay with clutter and junk there. They say it lowers their property values and threatens the environment. Others say what is on their property is nobody’s business.

George said cameras he installed in his district helped him identify culprits of illegal dumping and he got rid of that problem.

Chairman John Glasscock, who votes to break a tie on the commission, said he is not familiar with the self-governance law and does not have an opinion about it.

District 3 Commissioner Kevin Murphy sides with George on the issue.

“It wouldn’t pass if it were put up for rural county residents to vote on,” Murphy said. “I talked to people about it, and 95 percent does not support it. I don’t personally support it because I live in the rural part of the county.”

The Legislature passed the law in 2005 after years of listening to commissions clamor for home rule.

The law empowers county commissions to hold a referendum that would allow rural residents to vote to give commissioners authority to create an ordinance. The ordinance would force residents to clean up trash and junk which could threaten the environment.

District 1 Commissioner Jeff Clark and District 2 Commissioner Ken Livingston are for cleanup.

Both have districts that include the heavily populated areas of Decatur and Hartselle.

Livingston does not want to stop people from raising chickens or grazing cows, and the ordinance would not do that.

“At this time, I would be for it,” said Livingston. “There are some concerns I have in the county,” said Livingston. “I’m not for taking away their rights on what to do on their property, but they should consider their neighbors.

“I think their places should be presentable. It would increase the value of their property and their neighbors. ... I think we need to have some public hearings and educate them about it and let them vote on it.”

Clark said the law would help the county regulate junkyards.

“It wouldn’t be the type to make people cut their grass, but if there’s a health risk with junk cars sitting in somebody’s yard, then they would be required to remove them,” Clark said. “I would be for putting it to a vote of the people, after we explain what we want to do. It would be wrong to ask them to vote for something without explaining it.”

The law does not give commissions the authority to create zoning regulations, which would restrict property owners’ land use.

Only voters in unincorporated areas would be able to vote on a referendum to authorize the commission to create a junk ordinance.

Sonny Brasfield, assistant director of the Association of County Commissions of Alabama, who helped get the law passed, said limiting the vote was key in passing the legislation.

“We limited the vote to people in unincorporated areas because they are the ones the law will affect,” he said.

Junk ordinance working

The Marshall County Commission started enforcing a junk ordinance it passed Feb. 12. Many residents oppose the ordinance, but it is working, an official said.

“It’s probably one of the toughest things that we’ve had to endure, but it’s been one of the best things for our county,” said Rhonda McCoy, administrative assistant in the Marshall County Commission office. “People are cleaning up who probably would not have cleaned up.”

McCoy explained that the county’s solid waste manager and an employee enforce the law. They have cited two people.

“We created our own forms, and we have forms for citizens’ complaints,” she said. “If a person files a complaint, the enforcement officer investigates and determines if it’s a violation of the junk ordinance or if it’s a neighborhood feud.”

If it’s a violation, the officer gives the property owner or renter a notice to clean up. If no efforts are made within 10 days, then the officer issues a citation for the violation.

If ignored, the county will fine the person. The violator has 30 days to pay the fine or appeal the citation to circuit court, McCoy explained.

McCoy said one of the two people who received a citation was fined $150 and until he pays, the county will add $150 per day until it reaches $5,000, which is the limit.

Money from fines will go into the solid waste budget to offset the cost of the county’s cleanup of the property, McCoy said.

District 4 & BRAC

George, who is adamantly against the law, could lose the most prospects when Base Realignment and Closure personnel start looking for places to live, said Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce President John Seymour.

“Commissioner George’s district will have the most impact because it borders Huntsville,” said Seymour. “People are going to come and visit and will see how their neighbors act and live, and that’s very important.”

Madison County, home to Redstone Arsenal where BRAC employees will transfer, adopted a junk ordinance last week and plans to start enforcing it July 1.

Seymour said many people he’s talked to during BRAC recruitment efforts prefer country living.

“We have always thought, and have done some surveys that told us, that the appearance of the community is critical to business development and residential growth,” said Seymour. “And, that goes for the city and the county. We’ve met with people and many ask if land is available because they want to be away from city congestion. When they come to look the area over, they need to get good first impressions.”

Home rule act

The Alabama Limited Self Governance ACT gives county commissions the authority to:

  • Abate nuisances like unsanitary sewage, noise, clutter, pollution and junkyards.

  • If Morgan County called for a vote, only voters in unincorporated areas could vote on the issue.

  • A referendum vote may be called by two methods:

  • The County Commission could adopt a resolution calling for a referendum or members of the public could sign a petition calling for the vote. Ten percent of the voters in the unincorporated parts of the county must sign the petition.

    A local ordinance under the law does not give the County Commission the authority to:

  • Raise or levy taxes.

  • Establish planning and zoning.

  • Regulate utilities, railroads, landfills or other companies regulated by a number of agencies.

    Source: Promoting Self Governance in Alabama

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