Saguache County adopts nuisance ordinance
SAGUACHE — The Saguache County Board of Commissioners voted 2-1 on April 18 to approve a nuisance ordinance that specifies evaluating the ordinance itself for the next 16 months.
The commissioners held the first public hearing on the nuisance ordinance on Dec. 15, 2022.
“We made some amendments to it after input from that meeting,” Commissioner Tom McCracken said.
Then the commissioners published the full text of the ordinance on March 16 and March 23 in a local newspaper as well as on the county website (saguachecounty.colorado.gov). They held another public hearing on April 4. According to statute, the commissioners did not need to read the full text of the 18-page ordinance on April 18 because they already held public hearings.
Before voting, Commissioner Liza Marron made a statement and Commissioner Lynne Thompson and McCracken responded.
Marron thanked her county colleagues “for wanting to beautify Saguache County, as do I,” she said. “It means a lot to me that we clean up our most egregious places. But I will be voting ‘no’ for several reasons.”
Marron characterized the approach as “whack-a-mole for the poorest in the county. We haven’t had enough time to craft this well, and junk vehicles stand out to me in that area. Number three, Ag is exempt.”
Marron explained that she took Thompson’s advice and reached out for input from veterans in the field (ranchers and cattlemen), including former Saguache County Commissioner Ken Anderson.
“If it is truly a public health hazard,” Marron elaborated, “then our whole county should be part of this nuisance ordinance.”
Before vowing to pursue beautification solutions to close her remarks, Marron said, “I trust this administration greatly. But, this will live on and could be used against people in a different time.”
McCracken and Thompson followed with comments before voting 2-1 to adopt the ordinance. Both commissioners pointed to next steps in the evolution of the process.
“We have never yet made anyone homeless,” Thompson emphasized, encouraging an open mind about implementing the ordinance. “Let’s give it a chance. Let’s see how it works. We’re willing to help people. So just give us a chance to roll this out and see how we do. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised that it’s workable for a lot of people because that is what we want to do. We don’t want to make people homeless.”
McCracken then pointed to wording in the ordinance for further scrutiny over the first 90 days. In coordination with the enforcement officer, land use office staff shall evaluate the performance of the ordinance. Together, they need to report their findings to the commissioners within a month of the 90-day trial, offering recommendations for amendments. For two subsequent six-month reviews, the commissioners and land use department will spend another year refining the process. This requirement is also included in the nuisance ordinance under section 13.
With two code enforcement officers who can work with sheriff department personnel, Saguache County has the staff to implement the new nuisance ordinance. As it is currently written, the provisions for regulation and abatement follow definitions of “blight” and 18 other terms. The ordinance describes procedures for registering complaints about a nuisance, as well as inspection protocols and notification. Residents can contest the violation through an appeals process. But once “all avenues are exhausted,” abatement and penalties follow.
In addition to monitoring how the nuisance ordinance performs, another passage in the text directs the Saguache County Land Use Department to “coordinate public education containing information regarding the Ordinance, including available means of disposal of nuisance materials covered under this Ordinance.”