County considering update to community decay ordinance

Cascade County officials are considering an update to the community decay ordinance.

County Commissioners heard the proposed amendment on first reading during their Nov. 9 meeting and will conduct a public hearing and vote during their Nov. 22 meeting. If approved, it would prompt a 30-day protest period before the ordinance change goes into effect.

The change is being proposed by the county planning department to keep language consistent with the department changes since it was last updated in 2011; and to develop a more detailed procedure for its administration and enforcement.

The county planning department investigates community decay issues when a citizen files a complaint.

In 2021, the department initiated 56 community decay cases and is currently handing 37 cases, according to the county planning department.

“Failure to remedy community decay has the potential to act as a chilling effect for complainants who do not feel their complaint and the issue has been addressed by the county, and serves as an invitation to other property owners believing this is an allowable use of their property without repercussions,” according to the planning department’s staff report.

Under the current county ordinance, community decay means “a public  nuisance created by allowing rubble, debris, junk or refuse to accumulate resulting in conditions that are injurious to health, indecent, offensive to the senses or obstructive of free use of property as to interfere with the comfortable enjoyment of life or property.”

According to the county planning office, many of those who violate the ordinance continue to do so despite actions taken by their office. Those cases are referred to the county attorney’s office for prosecution.

Charity Yonker, county planning director, told commissioners that an updated ordinance will allow the department to physically abate the property and pass the costs to the violator. If those costs are unpaid, the updated ordinance would also allow the county to place a tax lien on the property.

“This will hopefully result in more timely removal of community decay in the county and help alleviate the demand on the county attorney’s office to prosecute these misdemeanor cases. Having an updated ordinance strengthens the chances that these violations will be remedied in a court of law and dismissed due to technical issues with the language of the current ordinance,” according to the county planning office.

The proposed ordinance also sets a $500 fine for violations if the case goes to court to recoup the department’s cost and address “the reluctance of judges to impose penalties on community decay violators,” according to the county planning department.