When the July 29 Board of Supervisors meeting began, all seats were filled as residents from Wayne County appeared to voice their concerns over talk that was spreading throughout the county of a new ordinance that was looking to be put into effect. Citizens had heard rumors of a new junk abatement ordinance that they felt would create more harm than help if passed.
“I think some people are kind of taking it out of hand a bit on what we are trying to do as a Board of Health and Environmental Health,” Wayne County Environmental Health Director David Rhoades began. “We’ve had some issues in the country where, well the best way to explain this is to tell you what happened. I had some neighbors call me about a house where all they were doing was taking their trash and throwing it outside in piles. All this trash was blowing into neighbors’ fields. They called and complained and I went to look at it. I sent them a letter because you can’t have trash blowing into everyone’s yards.”
“Luckily they cleaned it up in the timeframe we gave them I think it was 30 to 45 days,” Rhoades continued. “It got me to thinking that if they wouldn’t have cleaned it up what could we have done? The county has no ordinance right now to cover ourselves and take care of properties. So I contacted three other counties to see what they do and one of them sent me a copy of their ordinance they just passed.”
“I took that to four cities now and all it is, is a starting point to see what we can do as a county,” Rhoades said. “It hasn’t even come to these guys yet (pointing to the three members of the Board of Supervisors). It has to go through my Board of Health before it goes anywhere.”
“I was unaware of anything or that this was even going on,” stated Supervisor David Dotts.
“This is a starting point trying to get something going, but it is for the county it is not for the cities,” Rhoades stated. “At the same time I get calls from every single town that is in the county and some may have been awhile since I had them but I have had them.”
“I was trying to do a good thing and going to the cities and seeing if they are interested in helping control some of these nuisance properties,” said Rhoades. “Not that I’m going to go out and search for them, the city would have to come to me if they wanted help.”
“I guess I don’t see where we have come to this point where this is such a bad thing because I’m just trying to clean stuff up and make it healthier,” Rhoades said. “If there is an issue with rats or something that impedes on health that’s where the environmental side comes in.”
Rhoades gave examples of times he has helped within a town at properties where children were involved. He stated he went by request of the sheriff’s office and DHS, and did not go on his own but instead was called.
He continued stating when approaching four separate towns he received different reactions from each one.
“One mayor threw it across the desk and he didn’t want anything to do with it,” Rhoades began. “Another place have something in place that is working really good for them and they want to stay with it for right now but they are still willing to look at what I have when I get an ordinance completed if we get it. Another town is all excited about trying something different to help them. Another town the council was excited about it, the mayor wasn’t. That’s just the way it goes.”
“On David’s behalf, he came to me and I knew about it when he asked me about it,” said Supervisor Tom Swearingin. “I thought it would be a good place to start. I’m on the Board of Health. The Board of Health was in agreement. All it was was a starting point that goes off what another county had done.”
“The idea was to go to the cities to get their input on it and we both agreed it needed reworded,” said Swearingin. “What got me involved was the deal where he went to the home with the children. Very, very bad deal and we can’t go into it, but it was very bad living situation and no one should have to live that way.”
“So I guess I’ll apologize if I stepped on anyone’s toes, I’ll take full burden for this it’s my fault,” Swearingin continued. “I will never, ever apologize for trying to help a child. Not to anyone. So I am the complaint department so if there are any complaints the buck stops with me.”
“I’d like to clear up something too,” said Supervisor Don Seams. “When I went to the meeting the other day (City of Corydon council meeting), I went for the purpose of keeping abreast of this housing situation. McClure was all in favor of the county and cities working together. So I think I was misjudged there but I just want it on record why I was there.”
“I don’t think we’re misjudging you,” said City of Corydon Mayor Dennis Moorman. “It’s a public meeting so anyone is welcome but it caught me off my feet. The city already has their own ordinance and we are taking care of some properties as we speak but you don’t just take care of them overnight.”
“We own no properties in town so we have nothing to gain from it,” said Swearingin. “And as far as financial gain, he never asked for any money, just the reimbursement for his time which we have to do because he is a county employee paid by tax payer dollars and we cannot donate that to keep the state auditors happy.”
“It hasn’t even been taken to the county attorney yet to see if it can be done,” said Rhoades. “I started this two weeks ago and I have already been to four cities. I know on social media a lot of stuff can be said and sometimes right or wrong it’s out there. One comment was we were trying to keep it secret. Well it’s only been going on for two weeks.”
“I think I can speak for our biggest concern,” began citizen Cheryl Becker. “All farms have generational junk if you dig in ditches 15 feet down you’ll find a plow. We don’t want something to get in that’s going to cause us to have to clean this stuff up. That could be astronomical.”
“I thought the exact same thing,” said Rhoades.
“That goes beyond this,” said Wayne County Auditor Michelle Dooley.
“It was included in Iowa County’s,” said citizen Kathy Moorman.
“We get complaints every day about eyesores along the highways and roads and DOT has told us we can’t do anything about it because we have no ordinance,” said Swearingin. “We have nothing in place. He wasn’t going to go look for these things but be able to investigate things.”
“According to this (Iowa County ordinance) people can turn people in,” said Kathy. “If somebody gets turned in then you would have to go look.”
“True,” said Rhoades. “Anybody that reports something it would have to be investigated.”
“From working at FSA we had whistleblowers all the time and the majority ended up that somebody was mad at their neighbor over something, had a feud for 10 years and every year they turned them in,” Kathy continued. “If you have to go look then what?”
“If it’s not an environmental issue or something that’s going to transmit diseases to another property then not an issue,” answered Rhoades.
“Have you read the city ordinance?” asked Seams.
“It’s got way more teeth in it that what that has,” said Swearingin. “The fine for the city ordinance is $625 or imprisonment of 30 days.”
Seams read the current City of Corydon ordinance regarding nuisance properties to the members of the meeting.
“The flip side is if someone complains and you’re not doing anything wrong then nobody can bother you,” said Swearingin.
“The way this one reads, again I know it isn’t ours, but the way this one is stated if you go to someone’s property with this in hand you’re going to find something,” said Kathy.
Kathy proceeded to read the newly placed Iowa County ordinance to point out areas of concern she and others had with wording used.
“There’s a lot about this I can agree with totally,” said Kathy. “But there are some clauses in here that opens a big can that could affect everybody’s privacy.”
“If we want to rewrite it somehow I don’t have a problem with that,” said Rhoades. “We still have to be able to cover our basics that protects everyone and not just a few. I can’t do anything without the county attorney going through it first and giving his two cents worth and then the Board of Health. It’s a long drawn out process to do any of this.”
“What is classified as dangerous?” asked Cheryl.
“The big thing is impeding on neighbors property, that’s a big one,” said Rhoades. “And transferring diseases from varmints or rats that is one of the biggest ones as far as environmental health goes. Now say there’s a junkyard and they never drained all the fluids out of their vehicles and it’s draining onto the property, that isn’t even me. I turn that stuff over to the DNR. I may be the one to do the initial investigation but that’s all.”
“And those laws are already set,” said Swearingin.
“We just don’t have anything now in the county as far as an ordinance goes to cover us,” Rhoades reiterated. “We have to have something and I’m just trying to help.”
“As far as the ditches, we live on a farm and when we purchased that place there was a ditch full of that stuff but I can tell you if and when we decide to sell that, that’s probably not going to be able to stay there,” said Dooley. “We are going to have a responsibility to clean it because we own it now. And there has been lots of changes now from 20 years ago on how we dispose of things.”
“I would like to just address on what was on Facebook about the Board of Supervisors trying to sneak something through,” said Dotts. “Don and I wasn’t even aware of this so it was just in the brainstorming session.”
“I see a lot of good in this but as someone that lives in the country and we live in one of the poorest counties in Iowa, we have a lot of elderly and a lot of people barely have money to make ends meet,” said Kathy. “We have people that can barely keep a roof over our heads. Some of these people do not have the money to keep their house in the conditions they would like.”
“One thing I do want to say about that is I’m on the board of the Chariton Valley Regional Housing Trust and we actually give money to people who have very low income and we do repairs on roofs and those kinds of things,” said Denise Becker. “Anytime I can get that information out that I like to do that. We give up to $12,500 through grant money to people who qualify so anytime there is something like this and they don’t have the funds to do it, they need to come see us because we can help them with that. The housing trust had nothing to do with this whole issue.”
“Because we had heard that it did,” said Cheryl.
“And I’m sorry but we throw this term of we’re the poorest county in Iowa out there very loosely and the fact that just because we may not have the funding, we still have the personal hygiene and we can still take care of what we have,” said Dooley. “Just because we may not live in a mansion we can still cut the weeds down around a home and we can still buy a gallon of paint. We should not be known as the poorest county in Iowa, that is a terrible way to perceive ourselves and it’s even worse when others throw that out there because I’m here to tell you I do not feel like the poorest people in Iowa. I feel like we are some of the richest people maybe not by material standards but of other standards.”
“We can’t write it for any less than (State of Iowa) Code,” said Swearingin. “I think it’s already in law.”
“Well maybe we don’t need it,” said Kathy.
The next Board of Supervisors meeting will be held on Friday, August 12 at 9 a.m.