Lancaster wants to get rid of junk cars

January 07, 2004|JIM LOGAN

LANCASTER - The City Council wants to clear out the dozens of abandoned vehicles in town. Now it just has to figure out the best way to do it.

The council heard Monday night from police officer David Shepherd that a police inventory showed there are about 70 vehicles inside the city limits that qualify as public nuisances. The obvious solution, he said, is to have them towed and charge their owners.

Unfortunately for the city, he said, it's not that easy.

Many of the cars' owners - who may be out of state or even dead - cannot be located. The city's law on public nuisances requires that owners be given notice - 10 days if hand-delivered, 13 days if mailed - before the city can take action.

Additionally, the city can't collect from people it can't find. Towing companies, Shepherd said, would likely charge the city about $50 to haul off a vehicle.


"Do you want us to start incurring debt on the city?" Shepherd asked the council.

One possible solution floated Monday night would be to give the cars to the towing companies after the city received clear title. Shepherd indicated the towing companies would be in favor of that.

The discussion on abandoned cars quickly developed into a wide-ranging examination of how the city handles other public nuisances, such as overgrown lawns and condemned houses.

As Shepherd pointed out, the city's public nuisance ordinance contains built-in weaknesses that limit its effectiveness.

For example, the law allows the city to order homeowners to mow their lawns. If they don't, the city can come in, mow it and charge them $100. The problem, Shepherd said, is that the ordinance allows the city to place a lien on a property only if the owner incurs a charge of $500 or more.

As it stands now, he and Police Chief Ron Lamb said, the city is powerless to do much about such nuisances. A homeowner can simply ignore the city without consequence.

"If we're gonna do it, we need to put some teeth in it," Lamb said of enforcing the ordinance.

Ultimately, the council deferred to Mayor Billy Moss' suggestion that the Shepherd and Lamb look at how other municipalities handle their public nuisances and report back in a month.

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