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Oskaloosa clean up drawing some criticism

by Dennis Sharkey

Efforts by the current city council to clean up Oskaloosa are drawing criticism from some and raising eyebrows for others.

Last week’s city council meeting agenda held on Aug. 18 included Judge Dennis Reiling.

Reiling has attracted the attention of the city’s health board for a house he owns on Delaware Street. The house has been in unlivable condition for a couple of years because of structure issues from a fire.

Councilman John Norman said Reiling has been sent two letters in the past couple of months with no response.

Reiling isn’t the only name on the list. Six other property owners were also listed on the agenda. Norman said he had made phone contact with one owner while it was discovered that another owner is deceased. Another property is in the county’s tax sale.

According to the city’s ordinance, once a letter is mailed to a resident concerning a structural issue, the resident has 45 days to comply or be turned over to the court system.

Norman said the owner of each property listed was mailed a letter and then mailed another letter at the end of the 45 days and it has been at least 30 days since the second letter was mailed. When the health board met earlier this month they recommended another extension.

Councilman Gary Bryant, who has only been on the job two weeks, said he can see both sides of the issue.

“Part of me says you have the rules and regulations and you’ve got to follow them,” Bryant said. “But also you have folks who are probably having a hard time.”

Bryant said he would favor a deadline of Oct. 1 for yard issues.

Mayor Mike Boyd is of the opinion that if the council is committed to following city ordinances, they should be consistent.

“There you go,” Boyd said after hearing the ordinance’s language. “Send them to court. Let’s quit wasting our time and their time.”

In the case of Reiling, City Attorney Mike Hayes said a special judge would have to be appointed along with a special prosecutor.

Some who have received letters have questioned the intent behind the letters. Boyd said that will not be the case with Reiling.

“Yes,” Boyd said. “He will get the same treatment as everyone else.”

The council tabled the issue and the health board will meet sometime this week to make another recommendation to the council. Council members would not comment on whether or not the health board’s recommendation would be the final action.

One property owner on the list, Rex Forbes, was in attendance along with his son-in-law Jerry Green. Forbes owns and operates a lawn mower repair business on the corner of K-92 Highway and Cherokee Street.

It was the third time since 2007 that Forbes had been called into the council to discuss his property.

Green said that Forbes has done considerable work on his property considering his health condition and his age. He said calling them into city council meetings is harassment.

“I don’t think you’ve seen what they’ve done and I don’t think you appreciate what they’ve done,” Green said.

Norman said the health board recommended that Forbes return to the council with a 30-day plan.

Green said that was unacceptable and that Forbes would not be returning again.

“I think we just said we’ll clean it up the best we can,” he said. “The 30-day plan is to continue what they’ve been doing.

“At some point it becomes harassment,” he later added.

Green said the matter was thrown out of court the last time and it would be thrown out again. Hayes later said that the health board dismissed the case because they had seen significant progress.

Green also questioned Norman about the city’s ordinance and how Forbes’ business was affecting health.

“I think you would have a hard time convincing a judge that viewing something is bad for your health,” he said.

Norman said the ordinance addressed more than just physical health and that the overall well being of the community is at stake. He said the issues cause property values to drop which hurts other residents financially.

Norman said the intent is to make the city’s appearance look better, not to run business owners out of town. He said the council isn’t trying to make residents get rid of their stuff.

“It’s okay to have them,” Norman. “You just can’t have them where they are in view.

“It’s not a matter of push and shove,” Norman went on to say. “Let’s see what we can get done and do it in the most respectful way we can to people.”

Norman said at the same time the city has a responsibility to the other residents of the city that does not include divulging their personal business.

“If you come and talk with us we’ll work with you,”Norman said. “It’s not the Health Board’s responsibility to know your financial or health condition. We’re there to address the health and well-being of the property. When you get no acknowledgement what are you supposed to do?”

Hayes said in order to get a property owner into court they will have to be personally served. He said tacking a notice to their door will not suffice.

The council appointed Byrant to the health board to fill the spot vacated by Jim Faris. Norman said he has a special project for Bryant that will include organizing help for residents who are having trouble keeping up their property due to physical conditions. If anyone would like to volunteer they can call City Hall at 863-2651.

In other actions:

• Boyd addressed the issue of the city’s court and its lack of activity.

Court was canceled for the second month in a row in August. One case was continued.

Boyd said the city’s police force only works a few hours, mostly in the evening and early morning hours and that little activity is going on.

He pointed to the budget as the main problem.

“That’s my biggest problem with the budget,” Boyd said. “The pool budget is bigger than the police budget.”

The city has $78,000 budgeted for the pool. The police department is budgeted for $75,000.

• The Planning and Zoning Commission no longer has a quorum. The board was already short two members and now is short another with Gary Bryant’s appointment to the city council. Bryant cannot serve as both but will serve as the city’s liaison between the council and the commission.

• After a couple of months of research and negotiations the city has purchased a new backhoe tractor for $51,250. The city will trade in the backhoe they currently have. That tractor was purchased in 1996.

• City Clerk Patty Hamm was appointed municipal court clerk. The move will be permanent. Interviews for the treasurer position will begin this week. Matt Miller was appointed to the Health Board.

• The city officially transferred more than $3.1 million to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and will begin paying off a 40-year bond for the city-wide sewer project.

• The council approved a contract with Pia Friend Realty to sell the old Harvey’s Hardware building.

• The council approved a contract with MHS Engineering and Surveying to be the city’s engineer.

• The city will spend more than $17,600 to turn a part of east Warren Street into a gravel road. The road dead-ends and only a handful of residents live on the road.

• The council’s open seat could be filled at the next meeting on Sept. 1. Norman said he has spoken with someone interested in serving.

• The city will have the engineer look at drainage solutions for an area that collects across from the post office. The water runs through a nearby resident’s yard and there is concern about flooding.

• The council discussed the possibility of installing speed bumps on Cherokee Street. Boyd said he has received several complaints a month about people speeding down the street.

• The council made some addendums to the specs for the pool repairs. Some specs were made more specific.

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