Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

It’s costly to address unsightly sites

by Steve Targo

July 21, 2011

Bloomfield — In this town, there are four ways someone can register a complaint against an unsightly or “junk” property.

They can contact a Town Board member, the zoning administrator, the building administrator or the Police Department. Then, depending on how far the investigation into the complaint goes, the town attorney could be involved in this effort to have someone improve the way their property looks. As anyone who’s ever needed an attorney knows, the services they provide don’t come cheap.

But is this another government horror story of needless duplication of services or frivolous spending? During a special interview July 13, Bloomfield Town Chairman Ken Monroe said it’s not because at some point most, if not all, of these officials are needed to resolve an unsightly debris complaint — if someone doesn’t just take responsibility to clean up their own junk.

“Depending on the type of complaint, it can go through all these different offices,” Monroe said. “When the people don’t comply, then we need an attorney. Then, they will have to (seek) court actions and everything.”

There’s another option for the town, one which Monroe said may hold more significance if the region northeast of Highway H becomes a village. Although that matter remains in front of the state’s Incorporation Review Board of the Department of Administration, it’s possible the town as-is could create a code enforcement officer position. Monroe said typically, that’s done in some villages, such as Genoa City.

He said he doesn’t think Bloomfield needs one, but he would be open to the idea.

“Again, if you’re looking at (Bloomfield) being a village, you could be looking at a position like that,” Monroe said. “Right now, it’s pretty well covered the way we’re doing it.”

He said he was unable to obtain an estimate as to how much it costs to have police investigate unsightly debris complaints. However, there are town ordinances to prohibit things which may be the subject of a complaint, such as storing a junk car in a residential yard, so enforcing that complaint would be a natural police function.

Essentially, the nature of the complaint dictates which office is involved. For example, a complaint about a building would involve the building inspector. If it involves use of the property, it could be a zoning violation. Sometimes, it involves police, the administrator and the inspector — then, if nothing’s done by the owner, the court, which means, yes, the town attorney.

As for having the zoning administrator or building inspector investigate a complaint, Monroe said the charge is $50 per investigation.

Legal fees run much higher. Monroe said some complaints can cost the town around $2,000 to handle a complaint “if they have to go to court.”

In April, Town Attorney Brian Schuk gave a much higher estimate. He said if a property owner doesn’t comply and it comes down to the town having to clean the property, the cost estimate can range between $30,000 to $50,000 just for the legal work and physical labor involved. Of that, the legal fees can cost as much as $10,000 to $15,000.

“The cleanups are the most expensive,” Schuk said.

With an estimate for legal fees safely in the thousand-dollar range, Monroe said that’s why the No. 1 priority in an unsightly debris case is to work with the property owner.

He gave an example. According to Monroe, there was a complaint to Zoning Administrator Jill Murphy about people living in a trailer on Highway U. The administrator investigated the complaint, which apparently was true, and Murphy informed them of the occupancy violation.

“Within one week, the people moved out,” Monroe said. “The trailer was gone.”

As such, the complaint cost Bloomfield $50, versus thousands if the matter had to go to court.

But sometimes, the town’s not so lucky.

In April, the Bloomfield Town Board discussed 10 unsightly debris property complaints at a regular meeting. Although a raze order was signed for one of them last November, only earlier this month did the board hire a company to execute it.

Monroe said on July 11, the board hired Siegler Grading and Excavating, Elkhorn, to execute the order at N2486 Giles Drive for $15,500. According to Monroe, the board chose the lowest of the four bids. B.R. Amon’s bid was $57,080. Tyler’s was $39,620, and a bid from Sawyers was $24,000.

The property owner, Myron Bojszuk, signed the raze order Nov. 16, 2010, but town officials were concerned about starting it right away.

“We were going to raze it immediately, but we delayed it because it’s on the side of a hill,” Monroe said. “It also involves some landscaping, but we couldn’t landscape it in the spring. We were afraid (the grass seed) would have been all washed out.”

The raze order calls for restoring the site to a “safe, erosion-free and dust-free” surface.

Monroe discussed the story behind this situation. He said after receiving complaints from neighbors, Bloomfield police investigated and saw that it was “bad.” Building Inspector Joe Mesler and the town’s attorney were called to investigate the because it was questionable whether the residence was habitable.

Monroe said a woman and her son were living in the residence. After the investigation, he said they contacted Bojszuk.

“We told him he couldn’t have tenants living in there it was in such bad shape,” Monroe said.

The tenants were given 30 days to move out.

Regardless of the type of complaint, the owner of the property in question should receive a letter from the town official or department investigating it. Monroe said the attorney is involved if legal action is anticipated.

“We try to work with the people as much as we can,” he said. “If they need more time and we see they’re working on it, we can give them more time. We don’t want to get the attorney involved because it costs the taxpayers more money.”