Fort Pierre to enforce cleaning up of properties

From left: Fort Pierre Finance Officer Roxanne Heezen, and council members Mike Weisgram and Greg Kenzy. Weisgram was the most verbal concerning the pros and cons of the proposed independent contractor agreement to enforce city clean-up ordinances.

The Fort Pierre city council has approved going with an independent contractor agreement for legal services to enforce clean-up ordinances.

In its Oct. 7 meeting, the council voted to hire Randy Seiler, LLC, of Fort Pierre, as legal council for code enforcement. Seiler is licensed to practice law in South Dakota, and has extensive prosecution and administrative experience. He has served as an elected member of the council, thus is familiar with the city’s ordinances.

Seiler’s main duties are to review current city health, safety and public nuisance ordinances and make recommendations for change. According to discussion by the council, ordinances concerning the clean-up of trash, rubble, unkept lawns, dangerous buildings and other ‘junk’ on properties are to be enforced.

“It is really time-consuming when you have no one who can focus on the task,” said Rick Hahn, director of public works, concerning having someone from out of town trying to enforce town ordinances. “Lots of windshield time.”

“Enforcement of ordinances in small communities has been a real problem. And, say $75 per hour of windshield time sure adds up fast,” said council member Mike Weisgram.

That windshield time would come from the South Dakota Municipal League, which has hired someone to help provide service to small towns, particularly towns with no staff to work on ordinance enforcement. Still, when used, that service would come with a charge.

Hahn said that Fort Pierre already has a list of properties that fall under the nuisance (clean-up) ordinances. Demolition of old buildings by certain property owners is taking years. “Some are cleaning up, but slow. It needs to happen,” said Hahn.

Weisgram agree, “This is something easier to put off than to address. If we can get some action on these pieces of property, then I’m in. I think this project will be on the top of Seiler’ mind, not just pushed to a different part of his desk (like has happened in the past and with many small towns.)”

Weisgram voiced that enforcing the clean-up ordinances should have a snowball effect, in that once one owner has been made to comply with the requirements, then it should be easier to make others comply. “If we can get an owner to clean up one piece of property, it will be easier to enforce our codes with other property owners,” said Weisgram.

$25,000 has been put into the 2020 budget for this enforcement project. And, there is still some excess budget from 2019 that was earmarked for legal fees. Mayor Gloria Hanson pointed out that Seiler, not being on the city’s staff, will not cost benefits or even dedicated office space.

The independent contractor agreement may be terminated by either party upon 30 days written notice, thus Fort Pierre is not locked into it if the project is not working as expected. “I propose we try this for six months, then evaluate,” said Weisgram.

The council voted unanimously to accept the independent contractor agreement.

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