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Commissioners at odds over litter cleanups at county expense, demand priority sytem

Approval to clean up two abandoned properties at the county’s expense has members of the General Health and Welfare Committee concerned about setting a precedent that will encourage property owners to pass the buck.
A total of $3,500 was approved during the May 11 meeting of the Budget Committee for cleanups on Overhill Road and Pickens Bridge Road, and will be recommended to the full commission during its May 23 meeting.
“Requesting support from this committee is a last-ditch effort when structures are abandoned and no one will accept the mail,” said Washington County Zoning Administrator Mike Rutherford, explaining that absentee properties are the most difficult to deal with.
The only other enforcement tool available is the unfunded resolution regulating litter control for the storage of garbage, litter refuse and rubbish on public and private property, Rutherford said.
The abandoned structure at 130 Overhill Road is believed to be inhabited by coyotes, which represents a public safety concern to children in the neighborhood.
Though the home was at one time listed in foreclosure, the mortgage holder dropped the claim after being contacted by the county about taking responsibility.
Multiple calls to animal control and wildlife agencies also yielded no help. Because county crews and volunteers are prohibited by law from working on private property, an outside company has agreed to handle the cleanup at a cost of $2,500.
The violation at 165 Pickens Bridge Road, by comparison, could be considered less serious. It involves brush and overgrowth, which can be cleared for $1,000.
“We have similar situations all over the county; how do we decide which ones are cleaned up first,” asked Commissioner Joe Grandy during the General Health and Welfare Committee meeting held that night.
The Zoning Administrator’s Office presented an updated report on the 77 litter control files currently under review. While progress is being made with residents who cooperate, Rutherford said the majority of homes are unoccupied and owners can’t be located.
Grandy suggested establishing criteria that could be used to prioritize the cleanups covered with county funds.
Rutherford said the spirit of the litter resolution also needs to be considered, with public safety ranking above nuisance.
Chairman Pat Wolfe asked zoning staff members to begin drafting a priority system.