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Residents speak out against local nuisances at Backus Council meeting

The Aug. 5 regular meeting of the Backus City Council prompted a lively discussion between Pine River Police Chief Paul Sand, the council, and city residents.

The discussion began when Sand told the council that its nuisance ordinance could be improved to better address nuisances in the city. Sand said the ordinance needs to better define a timeframe for compliance and also needs other points of clarification.

Backus resident Christine Newman adressed the council concerning nuisance ordinance violations by one specific city property.

“That’s been going on for so many years. So many letters have been given to this man. He has cans of oil in his yard, he has moved a few things, some other people come in at night and take things, which helps. This has been going on so long,” Newman said. “The city has always hushed this up. For years they have written them a note and nothing has been done. Get something done.”

Council member Richie Bean said that what Sand was requesting would empower the council to respond more effectively and quickly to such violations.

“The way it’s written now there’s not much, really, that we can do,” Bean said.

Bean explained that legal action against noncompliant residents currently takes too much time. Improvements to the ordinance could fix that.

“I own two rentals in town, and I have my renters calling me and telling me they are going to move out because there’s so much in the front yard, and no muffler on the truck, and tires laying everywhere,” said Mark Beckler. “It’s the same land lord putting in the same kind of people and nothing is done about it and I’m going to lose renters because nobody in the city is doing anything about it. Like she said, it’s been years and years.”

“It’s ridiculous, it really is,” Beckler said. “It has to be taken care of. We need to do more than look into it. It needs to be taken care of, and if it can be done in big cities it can be done here. It’s got to be the main priority, because this city is just going to the pot.”

Mayor Kurt Sawyer said that complaints about specific violations should be addressed to the Pine River Police Department or the Cass County Sheriff's Department.

Concerned residents said that the properties in questions posed actual safety concerns. Beckler said that the property owner in question drove at high speeds down city streets where children walk, in addition to having a yard full of garbage.

Sand explained that the city of Pine River experienced the same issues.

“The ordinance needs to be worked out so we can do something, so we can go to them and give them a letter saying they have x amount of days to take care of it,” Sand said.

Fire Chief Jason Smith said that certain things, like bins of oil, could constitute more than a nuisance. Such things could be considered actual hazards to health, which could require immediate action from the county. As such they should be reported to the county.

Council member Ann Birge suggested that residents act as a neighborhood watch and report any complaints that they have.

Sand said that actual police warnings have proven effective in the past.

Lee Bundy, city water/sewer operator, said that former Backus Police Chief Dale Vredenburg used to help him patrol the city, take photos and notes of violating properties, and report them to the council.

“We can do that,” Sand said.

The council made no changes to their current nuisance ordinance at this time, but they did set in motion plans to make changes in the future.

In other business, the Backus City Council:

•Scheduled a public hearing to discuss increasing the Sewer Rate Fee Charge for Sept. 9 at 6:30 p.m. before the regular council meeting.

•Approved a fireworks permit for the 2013 Backus Cornfest on Aug. 10.

•Scheduled a budget meeting for Sept. 5 at 6 p.m.