Sanders County Ledger - Your Best Source For Sanders County News

By Ed Moreth 

Residents oppose decay ordinance

Plains Council to review junked vehicle section


Ed Moreth

OPPOSING VIEW – Plains resident Pat Killgore spoke passionately against the ordinance, saying it's not the government's business what he does on his private property.

It was standing room only at the Plains Town Council meeting at City Hall last week, when council members went through the second reading of the proposed Community Decay Ordinance, which is what the town is now calling it.

Rarely is the courtroom filled during monthly council meetings, but it was packed with nearly 50 people that stretched into the hall. The public works committee and the council has been working on the proposed ordinance for months, but few people have taken an interest. At the first official reading in May, only a handful of community members attended and there was no opposition.

Forty-eight people showed up to hear the ordinance's second reading last Monday evening. Nine people spoke in support of the ordinance; a few saw both sides, and some merely wanted clarification. However, of the 34 people who spoke at the meeting, nearly two dozen people voiced their disapproval for various reasons.

"It's my property. I served my country and part of the reason was so we can have our private property, and if it is no danger to somebody else – there's no fire hazard – I am the person that says, it's my property and stay the hell off of it, you'll be safe," said Pat Killgore during the public comment period. As a contractor, Killgore keeps his equipment and supplies outside on his property and said he doesn't feel the government should tell him he can't. Killgore, a Plains resident of 12 years, read the entire ordinance. He also had a problem with the slaughtering animals section, saying that it's nobody's business how long his game animal carcass hangs.

John Dossett told the council that the ordinance is a "slippery slope," citing a small town in Georgia, where a man was fined $1,000 for an illegal wood pile. Public comment lasted nearly 1.5 hours. Some people admitted to not even reading the ordinance. One man said it was a violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. Another felt the town was opening itself up to lawsuits. Most of the comments concluded that a person should have the right to do whatever he or she wants on their own property, a popular misconception, according to Mayor Dan Rowan.

"I've heard from more people that are talking about cleaning up the community than I've heard about fixing the roads. There's a lot of people that think this is a problem," Rowan told the crowd. The mayor said he's in favor of property rights, except when it impacts others. He's been told by two people that they can't sell their homes because of the trashy condition of a neighbor's home or yard.

"When what you're doing on your property affects your neighbor or your neighborhood negatively in some way, you've harmed your neighbor," he said. Rowan said he doesn't want a gated-type community, but he also believes a person shouldn't have to reduce the price of a home just because of a neighbor.

Most of the negative comments had to do with the Junked Vehicles section, which stated that it is "unlawful to park, store, leave, or permit parking or storing of any licensed or unlicensed motor vehicle of any kind or part(s), thereof for a period of time in excess of seventy two hours, which is rusted, wrecked, junked, partially dismantled, or inoperative or abandoned condition whether attended or not, upon any private property within the town limits ..." The ordinance pointed out that two or more such vehicles constitute a nuisance and would be illegal. However, the council added to the ordinance that those vehicles could be shielded by putting them in a building, behind a fence or behind a natural barrier, such as bushes or shrubs, according to Rowan. It also noted that a person with multiple vehicles who holds a licensed business enterprise would be an exception to the ordinance. Ken Saner, who attended the meeting, has a commercial license for his vehicle collection, some that date back to the 1920s.

"I don't think the town needs to be Californicated. This is Plains, Montana. This is a podunk town, always has been. We don't need people coming in from out of state telling us how to run our town and our property," said Joe Sheppard, who collects antique vehicles, some of which are in parts and in public view. However, two women told the crowd they've lived here all their lives and support the ordinance.

Cindy Karnes asked the council who is to decide how many vehicles is too many and who's to decide what's considered a junk vehicle. One man said he should have the right to stack vehicles 10 high on his property. Many people had problems with the word "rusted." Several people in attendance said the vehicle they drive on a daily basis has rust and would be illegal, based on the ordinance. Councilman John Curry said all four of his vehicles have rust and it's not the intention of the ordinance to have every car with rust on it hauled away. However, Curry said they are taking the rust phrase out of the ordinance.

The numerous negative comments against Junked Vehicle section prompted Curry to make a motion to table that specific section so that the committee could take another look at it. The motion passed 5-1. On Wednesday evening, the committee, which included Curry, Sandy Chenoweth and Joel Banham, met at City Hall, where just over a dozen community members attended, many the same people who were at Monday's meeting. The committee listened to comments for more than an hour again before Curry suggested that they use the Montana Code Annotated definition of junk cars, but keeping the shielded aspect in the ordinance.

The remainder of the ordinance passed unanimously and will become law on July 2, the date for the next council meeting. At that time, the Junked Vehicle section will go through the second reading again. If passed, it would go into effect 30 days later.


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