SPARTANSBURG — Borough Council has been wrestling with several issues month after month because council members didn’t have answers to their own “how-to” questions.
On Tuesday night, council members got answers to their questions concerning issues such as what to do about a blighted property, how to follow up on delinquent sewer bills, and how to respond to a resident’s complaint that a horse barn too close to his property is a health issue.
Council invited its solicitor, Ed Betza, to attend its monthly meeting at borough hall. After fielding questions to Betza for about two hours, council members took action on issues that have been giving them a headache for several months.
Council asked Betza about how to deal with abandoned property at 200 Jefferson St. The house and lot are owned by Rodney Gordon.
“How does the borough deal with a house that is a major pain?” Council President Bob Hopkins asked Betza.
Betza said council has the right to tear it down.
“If it’s a public safety issue, you can bulldoze it,” Betza said.
Before council gets the heavy equipment out, however, they need to have documented statements from three representatives — the local fire department, the state police, and an engineer — stating the house is a safety hazard.
“If all three agree it needs to come down, then you can bulldoze it,” Betza said.
While tearing down the house may get rid of an eyesore, it probably won’t put money that Gordon owes for back sewer bills into council’s hands.
Betza said Gordon would still own the land the dilapidated house sits on, which council has a lien against for delinquent sewer bills. One resident spoke up and said Crawford County Court records show there are other agencies, including a bank, that also have liens against the property.
Council unanimously agreed, however, to get rid of the house.
“We will pursue condemning Rodney Gordon’s house to tear it down,” Hopkins said.
Council was awarded a judgment from a district judge to collect money Gordon owes for back sewer bills.
Council also was awarded a judgment for payment of money owed by Ben Byler for back sewer bills. Byler’s back bill is the highest of 17 ratepayers who owe $500 or more in late sewer payments.
Since being awarded the judgment several months ago, council has not pursued collecting the money.
“Once you have a judgment, you have to go to the courthouse to file to execute it,” Betza said.
Council then agreed that Betza will continue to pursue collection of the money owned by Gordon and Byler.
Councilman Terry Fisher asked Betza if shutting off sewer service to people who haven’t paid their bill would help get money owed.
“There’s nothing illegal about it, there’s nothing wrong with it,” Betza said. “As a general rule, you have the power to shut someone’s service off.”
Betza said, though, shutting off service may result in other consequences, depending on how the ratepayer reacts.
“You have to ask yourself what they are going to do (with their bodily waste),” Betza said. “If people don’t pay, they will just find a way to dump their waste.”
Betza told council members they need to look at “a practical solution.”
“You always have the power to place a lien on the property,” Betza said. “You always have the power to sue.”
Council also said that Clarence “Sonny” Fuller has come to council several times about a horse barn next to Fuller’s Mechanic Street home and his wife’s hair salon.
Fuller said the property owner, Rodney Johnson, neglects the horses and their liquid waste runs onto Fuller’s property and is a safety hazard and environmental issue.
“It seems the borough does not have an ordinance related to horses or public nuisance,” Betza said.
Betza said he is not aware of any legal document the borough has to address the horse-barn issue.
Councilwoman Susan Bleicher asked if council would adopt an ordinance in the future.
Betza said yes, but some matters would be “grandfathered” under the ordinance, and council could not change them.
Betza said an example would be owning horses, but council could look at related matters.
“The storage of horses would be nonconforming if you adopt an ordinance,” Betza said. “You need to decide as a council, if there’s anything that needs regulation. Right now there’s nothing you can do unless you want to enact an ordinance.”