County Commissioners Introduce First Anti-Rubbish Law in Two Decades
Teller County’s first crack at a revised and updated crackdown against trash hoarders, junk car owners and dwellers of illegal structures occurred last week with little backlash from the public and property owners.
And if anything, more residents reportedly want tougher rules, according to preliminary comments submitted online regarding the new proposed ordinance.
Only a few citizens commented publicly during a special meeting held last week on the new proposed measure, representing the county’s first new anti-trash stand since the summer of 2001. Opinions varied with some favoring more enforcement, while a well-known business owner contended that the county could turn into a HOA (Homeowners Association) enforcement agency under the plan. Meanwhile, a key elected official worried about the safety of Teller employees put on the front-line of enforcement. Other concerns were raised by a previous commissioner about the complaint-driven policy and the overall notification process.
The new rubbish rules will go before the county commissioners on Aug. 25, with a final reading of the law slated for Sept. 8.
The new law is prompted by state legislative changes that bar these types of offenses being treated as criminal penalties. They will now be considered as civil complaints, and are being compared to the way traffic infractions are handled.
But the fines won’t be cheap and will mark a substantial hike from current code violations, with a third offense reaching the $1,000 level. And after that level, it gets really ugly for code violators who could face tax liens and property impoundments. The hike in levies is due to the need for the county to establish an abatement fund to address problem areas.
In addition, the county sheriff’s office is the main agency now that will handle the complaints, rather than Teller’s community development services agency. They will be equipped with at least two vehicles, identifying their role in investigating code complaints.
County leaders once again stressed their overall philosophy has not changed, with the overall goal of voluntary compliance and getting violators to clean up their property or remove old construction material or junk cars.
“This is meant to be positive,” said Commission Chairman Dan Williams, at last week’s special meeting.
Williams, who previously served as a county planner, conceded that Teller officials have received a bombardment of complaints and calls. He didn’t delve into details, but cited concerns over illegal shed dwellings and Teller possibly getting besieged with questionable STR units in the near future, with nearby cities, such as Woodland Park and Cripple Creek, issuing moratoriums against licensing these units. “We are not going to be an easy target,” said Williams. In past comments, he has cited concerns over trash, old construction materials and dilapidated vehicles and car parts.
“It is not intended to be punitive,” stressed County Commissioner Bob Campbell.
Teller County Attorney Paul Hurcomb echoed similar sentiments and made it clear the county’s philosophy will remain the same, with officials preferring that violators fix the problems rather than pay fines. In fact, he said county officials are willing to pursue ongoing negotiations with reported violators. He said they would much prefer to have alleged rubbish code violators use any potential money levied against them with possible fines to address the situation.
The fines, though, will increase, with the start-up levy set at only $50, but for the second and third offenses, they are hiked to $500 and $1,000 respectively. After that, the consequences are quite severe and would be dictated by court action.
The ordinance spells out in detail the definition of key nuisances and areas of rubbish concerns, such as junk cars and old construction material and time lines for addressing the problems.
Public comments on New Anti-Trash Law
Comments was quite divided on the subject at last week’s meeting
A resident of a big rural subdivision near the Four Mile area expressed much concern over speeding up the enforcement procedure and even the process for notifying a property owner responsible for a score of infractions.
The commissioners wouldn’t discuss this situation in detail, but maintained that every avenue is being pursued to bring this issue to a conclusion.
Former county commissioner Dennis Luttrell of Divide questioned details of the complaint-driven policy, and the notification process, when a nuisance is reportedly resolved.
Williams responded by noting that county officials “aren’t looking for trouble,” and aren’t doing active patrols of possible code related problem areas, but they are respecting the rights of individuals to file complaints anonymously. This is one change in the new approach, as residents no longer have to sign complaints, under the new plan, and can just inform the code enforcement officers of the potential problems.
Teller County Assessor Colt Simmons, meanwhile, expressed big concerns about the safety of county employees investigating the complaints. “We are not hearing much about the respect (and protections) towards county employees. I am concerned about that,” said the assessor. He cited problems with an explosion of “No Trespassing” signs in rural sections of Teller and the influence of some entities, such as sovereign citizens’ organizations, which don’t recognize the laws of county governments. “These are not always the most pleasant people, but we respect their rights,” said Simmons.
On the other side of the coin, Carl Andersen, a well-known local business owner and a former commissioner and congressional candidate, raised a serious red flag over the rubbish ordinance process. He is worried about the proposed law changes sparking neighborhood feuds. In addition, he believes the law could collide with Teller’s rural character due to the timelines imposed for removing building and construction material. “These (rules) are open for interpretation,” said Andersen “I want to avoid that.”
More than anything, he expressed big concerns over the new laws setting the stage for an extra layer of enforcement and regulations. “You could become a county HOA,” blasted Andersen.
The commissioners cautioned that this in not the intent of the new law. They stressed that the new regulations are aimed at helping to clean up the county and aren’t part of any overall punitive crackdown. They reminded Andersen the changes are prompted by state legislation.
According to Williams, the preliminary comments submitted initially online have favored the county adopting tougher rules in the new updated anti-trash regulations. “It is similar to what we received with our camping ordinance,” related the commission chairman.
At that time, county officials received a barrage of concerns by HOA groups and county residents.
Citizens are advised to comment online on the new rubbish ordinance, via the county’s website. A public hearing is scheduled for Aug. 25