The Hamburg City Council discussed but ultimately tabled the discussion about filing lawsuits against local properties in violation of the Arkansas Highway Beautification Act.
The council has recently been discussing ways to encourage residents to clean up their properties in order to make the city look more appealing, and City Attorney Paul Keith told the council Monday that he found a few different ways that the city can pursue the issue.
Keith said that a lot of cleanup ordinances look similar to the one Hamburg already has and that is because the state statute has set guidelines that cities have to follow.
Keith said two issues have come up over the last six months, one of which is the cleanup of overgrown grass, while the other is people storing vehicles in their yard that do not run.
Keith first spoke to the council about the most efficient way to clean up properties and collect from the homeowners.
There are ways that the city can clean up the property and then the resident will be forced to pay a fine when they pay their property taxes.
“It involves primarily certifying the cleanup to the tax collector for it to be collected as delinquent taxes and that is the most efficient way,” Keith said.
Mayor Dane Weindorf said that he supported taking that route because the city wouldn’t have to wait until the property was sold to collect any money, which is what would happen if the city filed a property lien for the cost of cleanup.
“We can enforce it and collect it every year on their taxes and that’s what I was looking for,” Weindorf said. “I didn’t want to wait until someone sold their property for us to get our money back.”
Keith then told the council that the best way to force property owners to clean up junkyards would be to lean on the Arkansas Highway Beautification Act.
“Under the statutes that I have read an automobile graveyard is a collection of automobiles that have at least five inoperable automobiles,” Keith said.
“An automobile graveyard is in the definition of a junkyard.”
The Arkansas Beautification Act as adopted by the state says that a person can not have junkyard within 1,000 feet from a primary highway unless it is screened from public view.
“We have a state highway commission who has authority to enforce that,” Keith said.
There is a second way that the city can actually enforce that act if it’s not been addressed by the highway commission, he said.
Keith said the city can go to Circuit Court and ask for an injunction and request that it be ordered that the person move or screen their junkyard in accordance with highway department regulations.
“The city can ask for a mandatory injunction, an order, that the junkyard — wherever it may be that is out of compliance — either be moved or screened from public view,” Keith said.
Councilwoman Derinda Stanley asked how fast the city could move on requesting orders for those violating the Highway Beautification Act.
“I would like some direction from you all if you wish for me to do that,” Keith said.”
“It’s a lawsuit which needs to be authorized by the city.”
Weindorf said the council needs to back any move that Keith makes in this area.
“When you start taking people to court there is going to be a flare up,” Weindorf said.
Stanley said that she thought the city needed to act on the matter because so many other organizations were working to clean up and improve Hamburg and she felt like the city should follow suit.
Stanley said that she felt like the council had been waiting for the state of Arkansas to come and do its part to enforce laws and get it cleaned and that it didn’t feel like the city was getting anywhere.
“I myself feel like we are on an upward climb to improve our city and how the appearance looks,” she said. “CenturyNext (Bank) put out beautiful signs and with all of the stuff the economic development has been working on, I think we should follow suit by going ahead and moving forward with this and seeing if we can’t get something done.”
Stanley made a motion that the council authorize Keith to move forward with filing the necessary lawsuits on those properties not in compliance with the state law.
Councilman Daniel Shelton said that he wanted to table the issue, but because none of the council members seconded the motion Keith said it died for lack of a second but could be brought back up at any time.
Councilwoman Deanne Murphy said that she wanted more information before making any decisions.
“I just want to make sure what I’m voting for,” Murphy said.
In other news:
-Police Chief Johnny Oliver announced that the Hamburg Police Department will be providing free wi-fi in the city to reach out to the youth of the city.
Oliver said that with school possibly being online next year he wanted to make sure all students in town had Internet access. The wi-fi will be available in three locations within the city, and the school will be in charge of getting the information and passwords out to the students for their use.
Weindorf said that this will be paid for out of Oliver’s annual budget and he was proud of the police department for stepping up and using some of their funding to do this.
-Weindorf said the city has been unable to get an update on the AT&T tower that was supposed to be installed in the city limits, a move that was controversial with some residents.
The company went through several meetings with both the city and the zoning commission to get approval to build it, but Weindorf said he hasn’t been able to reach anyone to give him any updated information on the project or to find out if AT&T is still planning to proceed with it.
-There will be a public auction at 9 a.m., Saturday, June 27 at the True Value Building.
The city will auction off five city vehicles, tractors, a limb chipper and various other items that the city is no longer using. The auction will be live.
-The council approved the purchase of a ROLLINRACK hose management system for the Hamburg Fire Department in the amount of $8,535.
The GP Bucket Brigade grant will fund $5,000 of the cost and the balance will come from Act 833 funds.
-The council passed a resolution to waive franchise fees for the Ashley-Chicot Electric Cooperative for operation for a broadband distribution system.
Weindorf said the new technology could improve the area’s Internet speed by three and four times the speed offered now. Ashley-Chicot Electric will be responsible for installing all of the equipment and maintaining the service. The resolution as adopted says they will not pay franchise tax for 20 years to assist them with the start up cost of getting the service up and running.
-The council approved Weindorf’s request that he apply for a grant of $250,000 that comes with a requirement that the city will match the funds.
If awarded, the mayor’s plans for the funds include a splash pad at Pine Street Park, a splash pad at Norman Park, and relighting the baseball and softball fields at Norman Park.