Nuisance order

Bell County sheriff’s deputies walk past a mattress and other trash in the front yard of a registered sex offender during a recent routine check. A new nuisance abatement policy is intended to clean up properties in the county.

BELTON — County residents with trash and other debris on their properties could soon face financial and legal measures if Bell County officials approve a new nuisance abatement policy.

The Commissioners Court will vote on the measure next week that aims to offer more options to county officials on how to address nuisances on unkempt properties.

During a Monday workshop, commissioners discussed an update to their nuisance abatement policies, which they plan to address during their meeting next Monday. The new policy would be expanded to include the definition of an abandoned vehicle and allow the county to put a lien on properties if the county has to clean up their land.

Fire Marshal Chris Mahlstedt, who will be enforcing the new policy if approved, said this change will give the county more options when dealing with unsightly properties.

The current draft of the order would allow county workers to go out to the property and clean it up to meet county standards and charge the homeowner for the work. This step would only be taken if the property owner doesn’t clean their property after receiving a 30-day notice.

“Without the policy in place the only remedy we have is to issue a (Class C) citation,” Mahlstedt said, referring to current fines of between $50 and $200 on a first offense.

Mahlstedt said many people can’t afford the fines and have trouble paying. If a lien in placed on property, the county would have a legal right to collect money owed from fines and limits the owner’s ability to sell the property.

 “It is just another way of us to get things cleaned up that seems like a little bit better enforcement than just the citation route,” he said.

The proposed policy defines nuisances into 12 different categories that include keeping or storing garbage in containers that aren’t closed. Stored newspapers, vehicles, furniture and tires are also items that would be nuisances if they are kept in a neighborhood or within 300 feet of a public street for more than 10 days.

The definition also prohibits maintaining a property in a manner that creates an unsanitary condition that is likely to harbor mosquitoes, rodents, vermin or other pests.

Nuisance vehicles are defined as a vehicle or part of one that is visible from a public place or right-of-way and is considered detrimental to public welfare. Nuisance vehicles can invite vandalism, create a fire hazard or reduce the value of a property, officials said.

Mahlstedt said once the order passes he will need to send new notices regarding fines and liens to property owners, similar to notices that are mailed out to give property owners 30 days to clean a property.

“If this passes … the only thing that I have to do is rewrite the 30-day notice to include this so everybody is aware of this new option,” he said. “Then, I will just reissue the notices, and if they don’t have it done in those 30 days, we will take the action that is necessary.”

County Judge David Blackburn said he was ready to pass the proposal, but plans on having it take effect 30 days after it is approved. He said this is to give the county time to figure out what procedures need to be put in place to handle the cases.

Commissioners also discussed whether to hire a law firm to handle the fines and liens.

Blackburn said he expected many cases to come from Precincts 1 and 3 once the order goes into effect.

“My guess is that there will be an initial thrust of cases but after that I would anticipate it would slow down just a little bit,” Blackburn said. “I am happy to work with any of the county law enforcement on it.”

Mahlstedt said he’s informing residents about the proposal and its effect on their properties if approved.

“People are not wanting to get in trouble so they are starting their own abatement,” he said.

Commissioners will meet at 9 a.m. Monday at the Bell County Courthouse, 101 E. Central Ave. in Belton.