City code changes proposed related to backyard burning, garbage pickup, nuisance provisions
City staff have recommended changes to city code related to food service, garbage collection, swimming pools, tattoo parlors, residential backyard burning, nuisances and more.
The City Commission accepted the proposed changes to Title 8 on first reading during their June 5 meeting and will hold a public hearing on June 19.
The proposal is part of staff’s ongoing effort to revise city code for typographical errors, needed updates and conflicts with state and federal law, and in places where city code conflicts with itself.
Title 8 deals with health and safety and staff has proposed several substantive changes to the existing code.
Assistant City Attorney Joe Cik explained the proposed changes to commissioners during their May 15 work session.
One of those changes would establish provisions to allow the city manager, in consultation with the fire chief, to prohibit all outdoor residential burning under certain conditions.
Those conditions include, but are not limited to:
- Cascade County implemented fire restrictions;
- pollution control;
- or a wild or structural fire within Cascade County posing risk to persons or property in the city.
This change was requested by Great Falls Fire Rescue.
Fire Marshal Dirk Johnson told The Electric that GFFR gets at least 20 calls each summer from people complaining about a neighbor doing some backyard burning.
It’s allowed at single and two family dwellings under the International Fire Code, but not at apartments or 4-plexes, for portable outdoor fireplaces that are used in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions and not operated with 15 feet of a structure or combustible material.
City code requires that only commercially made backyard or outdoor fireplaces with a spark arrestor be used and only firewood or charcoal is permitted.
The city prohibits burning rubbish, lumber, yard debris or vegetation in your backyard. Digging a hole and burning a couch is not allowed. That’s the kind of burning that GFFR will shut down, Johnson said.
The city code allowed for backyard firepits to be deemed a nuisance, but it hadn’t previously given the city the authority to ban all burning within the city when hazardous conditions arise.
Most of those backyard burning calls to GFFR turn out to be neighbor disputes, but if there is a real problem, Johnson said to call as it’s happening, otherwise the city has no recourse to determine if the burning is a nuisance or other type of violation.
A substantive change requested by the Cascade City-County Health Department is redesignating food service and wholesale food establishments to be consistent with the Administrative Rules of Montana, or ARM. The changes include amending inspection and closure procedures to be consistent with current practice.
Updates to the garbage and refuse provisions are also recommended to be consistent with current Public Works Department practice. The proposed changes include allowing yard waste in city-provided containers with appropriate packaging; assessing charges for collection that takes longer than two minutes; allowing service exceptions for winter travelers/snowbirds; and prohibit all salvaging.
Changes to Title 8 would also incorporate ARM regulation pertaining to swimming pools.
The proposed changes incorporate ARM regulations for tattooing and body-piercing establishments; tourist campgrounds and trailer parks; and establish specific regulations for childcare facility operations, including drop-in facilities.
All of those changes were requested by CCHD.
“This is what the state has established as standards,” City Manager Greg Doyon told commissioners. “We want to be consistent with that.”
The changes to Title 8 would also clarify language in the city’s nuisance provisions and clarify penalty provisions. That will help make the process consistent throughout the code, Cik told commissioners.
The city currently has the ability to take administrative action against nuisance properties and can also file criminal complaints in city court, Cik said.
A recent example of the city taking that two-pronged approach is a property at 2311 4th Ave. SW.
Staff asked that the commission declare the property a nuisance to allow the city to abate the problems. After a public hearing with multiple neighbors complaining about the property, commissioners voted to declare the property a nuisance.
Early this year, city staff received a petition through Neighborhood Council 2 with 67 signatures complaining about the property.
City staff attempted to work with the property owner though phone calls, site visits and letters, but the problems persisted.
Those problems included:
- Numerous salvage items in the driveway, throughout the property, including front, back, and side yards, and between the residence, pool house, and garage;
- Numerous licensed and unlicensed vehicles on the property in different states of disrepair and illegally parked on the property without the required off-street parking surfacing;
- Garage is in a dilapidated, unsightly condition and is a safety hazard due to a fire in October 2017.
In addition to the nuisance declaration, the city also filed a criminal complaint against the property owner in municipal court and a trial is scheduled in June.
The complaint alleges that the property owner has maintained a public nuisance and stolen services since someone had unlawfully tapped a water line to adjacent properties.
The city took a similar tact several years ago with the Holman property across from the federal courthouse. The property owner there chose to make the needed improvements to avoid being declared a nuisance and facing criminal charges.
In another case, the commission declared a property at 1425 3rd Ave. SW as a public nuisance during a December 2017 meeting, following 30 years of complaints. The property owner’s children attended that meeting and assured the commission that they would help their father abate the nuisance.
During their June 5 meeting, commissioners voted to declare that nuisance abated after the property owner corrected the issues.
“It’s going to get fixed on way or another,” Cik said of the city’s process on public nuisance properties.
Cik said there’s a seven-stage investigation process and city staff work with property owners to bring properties into compliance. But after the sixth stage, if compliance isn’t happening, staff bring the case to Cik to determine whether administrative or criminal action is needed, or both.
“It’s an extensive process, “Cik said.
Doyon said, “I think we bend over backwards to help people come into compliance.”
In most cases, the city doesn’t take action against nuisance properties until it receives formal complaints through the planning department, code enforcement or the police department.