The mayor of Ronda cast the deciding vote during an Oct. 8 meeting at town hall to schedule a public hearing on a long-debated nuisance property ordinance.
The public hearing, required by state law, will be held at town hall on Oct. 28 at 6 p.m. Consideration of this and other ordinances has been periodically taken up and tabled by town commissioners for more than five years.
Varela and commissioners Kay Luffman and Sandra Simons voted in favor of setting the hearing, while commissioners JoAnn Royal and Manuel Wood voted against it. Commissioner Helen Porter wasn’t at the meeting.
The nuisance ordinance was the only matter on the agenda for Ronda’s monthly meeting.
At particular issue is a small rental house on Main Street that has become dilapidated and, neighbors claim, is used as a gathering place for illegal drug use and drug sales.
During an open forum to open the meeting, former Ronda board member Kevin Reece said he understands that those with homes on Main Street don’t want drug dealing and unsanitary conditions at the rental house. He said he is opposed to the ordinance because he knows people in Ronda, and Wilkes County as a whole, don’t like ordinances. He said some residents could even become violent if the town attempted to enforce the ordinance on their property.
Reece, who has been a frequent opponent of Varela, told the mayor, “You’ve tried” to address the nuisance property issue, “and I’ll give you that.”
David Royal, husband of JoAnn Royal, said he recently removed 10,000 pounds of trash and debris from around the rental home in question. Royal said he had no authority to enter the residence, and noted, “It’s a mess inside.”
“I did my part as a neighbor,” he said. Royal said the home now doesn’t have electricity and water and referred to people staying there as “squatters” who don’t pay rent. The rental home is owned by an accountant from Winston-Salem, commissioners have noted at previous meetings.
Ron Niland, Ronda’s consultant, told the board that the proposed ordinance is standard “boiler plate language” which follows state statutes. He noted that almost all municipalities in North Carolina have adopted such ordinances.
The purpose of the ordinance, as set out by Niland in the document, is “to protect the health, safety and welfare of the residents of the town, as authorized by part 6 of article 11, chapter 160A of the general statutes of North Carolina (by establishing) minimum standards of cleanliness of properties. These would include properties that pose a threat to the public health, safety, general welfare and property values of the citizens of the Town of Ronda and such conditions, if not corrected, (that) can lead to harm.”
The ordinance would “apply to all existing residential properties” within Ronda’s limits. This would include “abandoned properties which are found by the board of commissioners to be a health or safety hazard as a result of the attraction of insects or rodents, conditions creating a fire hazard, dangerous conditions constituting a threat to children” or one frequented “by vagrants in the absence of sanitary conditions.”
If the ordinance is passed, the town clerk or someone designated by the clerk will act as a property inspector when a complaint is lodged by a Ronda resident. This person will investigate the property in question and will have the authority to issue civil citations and take other action as necessary to enforce the ordinance.
Niland said Ronda’s commissioners would have the final say in every complaint in terms of whether or not the town takes action.
“Whenever the Town of Ronda receives a written complaint from a resident or property owner… charging that a property may be in violation of this ordinance, the investigator shall begin an investigation and report those findings to the board of commissioners within 15 days of receiving the written complaint,” according to the draft ordinance being considered.
“If, the inspector deems that the property is in violation of this ordinance, a certified letter will be sent to the property owner asking that they make all the efforts necessary to bring the property into compliance within 30 days of receiving the certified letter or request a meeting with the board of commissioners to explain why they believe that their property is not in violation of this ordinance. That request will be put on the agenda of the next board of commissioners public meeting.
“If a hearing before the town’s board of commissioners is held, the board will vote on the matter before them. If, by majority vote, it is determined that the property is still in violation of this ordinance, the property owner will have 30 days from the meeting date to bring the property into compliance.
“If the property owner does not bring the property into compliance within the 30 days, the Town of Ronda’s town clerk will send a second certified letter to the property owner stating the town’s intent to levy a fine… per-day until the property is brought up to compliance with this ordinance. Any unpaid fines will be filed as a lien against the property at the Wilkes County (courthouse), along with any administrative fees associated with the filing of the lien,” according to the draft ordinance.
The amount of the per-day fine will be set by the board before the ordinance is approved.