GREEN RIVER — Green River Police Chief Tom Jarvie and Senior Building Inspector Ken Yager presented issues with enforcing the city’s nuisance ordinance on Tuesday night during a Green River City Council workshop.
According to Chief Jarvie, the Green River Police Department (GRPD) responded to 2,475 animal and nuisance calls in 2019. Of those, 330 were nuisance and parking issues, 49 of which were self-initiated by the city’s part-time nuisance officer, and 43 were initiated by resident complaints.
Chief Jarvie said the GRPD rely on resident complaints to deal with nuisance violations.
While nuisance complaints that present a safety hazard must be addressed by the GRPD, Jarvie said enforcement of other aspects of the nuisance ordinance can be difficult due to subjectivity.
“There is definitely room for discretion and room for interpretation when it comes to what those definitions are,” he said of the ordinance nuisance definitions.
Nuisances in the ordinance include weeds at least 12-inches high, sight triangles and safety issues for drivers and pedestrians, junk, trash, loud noise, odors, liquid discharge, water pollution, stagnant water, smoke with an opacity greater than 20 percent for longer than six minutes, dilapidated fences, blowing dirt, and vehicles.
While issues such as trash or odor can be easier to enforce, complaints about junk or weeds or the appearance a home can be harder to issue a nuisance violation for, as it gets into the issue of community need vs. property freedom.
“Some things are just subjective,” Chief Jarvie said.
He gave an example of weeds that were higher than 12 inches, but were part of someone’s esthetic landscaping, compared to a yard that has been neglected with no landscaping or lawn whatsoever. Under the ordinance, the landscaped weeds could classify as a nuisance, but the neglected yard wouldn’t because there are no weeds higher than 12 inches.
Yager said the city’s property maintenance codes do cover neglected properties, but they need to know the legal process of issuing those violations. He also said he would like the council’s perspective on what they see as the priority enforcement areas.
The council all agreed that safety issues needed to be addressed whenever seen by law enforcement or when a complaint is called in. However, Chief Jarvie, Yager, and the council all agree that voluntary compliance is the desired outcome in all nuisance enforcement.
Prioritizing Enforcement by Safety Need
Councilwoman Lisa Maes said she believes educating the community on what is considered a nuisance will help with both complying to the nuisance ordinance, and reporting nuisance violations to law enforcement.
“Citizens need to know that they have to call if there’s a nuisance, and turn those things in,” Maes said.
Mayor Pete Rust agreed, saying that education will lead to voluntary compliance. Councilman Mike Shutran said the city should identify the safety issues, compile a list, and prioritize it by safety necessity.
Mayor Rust echoed this thought, suggesting the city should work on putting together a safety inventory.
“I really do think we could get a good inventory, and then you explore that through the traffic committee or through a volunteer committee of citizens, I’d be happy to volunteer, and then you break it down and get some priorities set based on some standards,” Mayor Rust said.
He said areas that are high traffic, have kids in the area, or that are near schools would take the highest priority.
Councilman Jim Zimmerman said school bus drivers would be good resources to seek information on where sight triangles compromise drivers’ vision. Mayor Rust said delivery drivers and Wyoming Waste Systems dump truck drivers would also know where these spots are as well.
The city plans to use school bus drivers, delivery drivers, resident complaints, and city employees who drive the streets to help complete their inventory.