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Spencer will act quickly on code violations

SPENCER — Despite concerns that a new rule aimed at chronic code violators doesn’t go far enough, Spencer aldermen unanimously approved the ordinance Tuesday as a first step toward cleaning up the town.
“This is not exactly what I had asked for. I would like to see something with a little more teeth in it,” Mayor Pro Tem Jim Gobbel said. “Maybe it’s a good start.”
Gobbel had asked fellow board members in September to institute a program that could include rental registration, permits, inspections and fines.
Instead, town staff proposed a chronic violator ordinance that will allow Spencer to declare someone a habitual offender if the town has to clean up code violations, such as mowing overgrown grass, three or more times within a year.
The town will send one notice to chronic offenders at the beginning of each year. Then, staff can immediately abate any code violation, rather than sending warning letters and waiting for compliance. Price Wagoner, the town’s new planner, said it will save about a month for each violation.
The town will place a lien on the property for the cost of the cleanup.
“This is exactly what we need at this point,” Alderman Jeff Morris said.
Morris predicted the new ordinance will help convince property owners to comply with the code to avoid repeated liens against their property, which will add up quickly. Town staff could mow an offending yard every other week, if needed, and charge the owner, Morris said.
“I think we’re going to see an impact,” he said.
Gobbel said people are more likely to invest in an area where property is well cared for.
“My main priority are the residents of Spencer, and I don’t think anybody should have to live next to anybody who doesn’t take care of their property,” he said.
Alderman Reid Walters said he also was hoping for a stronger ordinance but believes quickly-placed liens can be effective.
The town’s lien is paid when an offending property owner sells the property, borrows money against it, refinances, receives an income tax refund or wins money in the lottery. Money to pay the lien is intercepted before the property owner receives the balance.
Wagoner said the town receives checks regularly from the tax assessor’s office to pay liens.
The one-time annual notice will empower town staff to move quickly to abate code violations, Morris said.
“This is long overdue,” Gobbel said.
Aldermen must take responsibility for the town’s appearance, he said.
“We are the people who make things happen in this town,” Gobbel said. “We can blame staff or this person or that person, but the buck stops here.”
Walters suggested the town could prepare an electronic document explaining the new ordinance that landlords could insert into leases.
Out of hundreds of violations, Wagoner said in October that he had identified 14 habitual offender properties: three were owner-occupied, 10 were rentals and one was fire-damaged.
The bulk of the town’s code violations involve overgrown grass.

Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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