City Council hears complaints of nuisance properties/vehicles

By Marj Frew 

Following the general monthly business at the Martin City Council meeting held Wednesday, August 14, several citizens voiced their concerns over the appearance of many nuisance properties and vehicles, and their affect on the general appearance of Martin. Council member Angie Hicks was absent.

Public Comment

Members of the public in attendance at the meeting were Sarah Harris, Todd Alexander, Bill Kuxhaus, Carol Saxton, and Joyce Wilson.

Todd Alexander began the conversation, “I just want to address the council that I’ve been trying to hire for the past couple of years, to bring some new people into our community. Just yesterday we interviewed and talked to an individual, and as soon as they came to Martin, they declined. What that’s leading to, is my concern, and I’ve had other people concerned about it too. My question to you is, why aren’t you enforcing the ordinances, why isn’t code enforcement taking place?”

“Our town looks like hell. Curfews aren’t enforced, we’ve got dogs running all over, we’ve got panhandling going on. The first impression coming in from the south end is horrible.”

“We’ve got vacated cars, unlicensed vehicles, we’ve got overgrowth. I know there are issues because of the moisture and so forth, but I think you guys need to start going around through your wards and looking at it, and trying to improve our town.”

“I’ve lived here for 30 years. This is the worst it has ever looked. It’s been difficult trying to bring someone in. It’s quite embarrassing to me when I have my boss say that he won’t even stay down here any more. Somehow I think you need to look at ways of trying to improve our community.”

Mayor Gary Rayhill replied, “Chief Petersen, would you like to respond?”

Petersen responded to the questions. “For dogs, we try to keep on it the best we can, responding to calls, including for dogs. I’ve only had one in the past two or three weeks. I do see dogs out and around, too, but every time I do catch them, it’s when I’ve responded to another call. One type of call takes priority over another.”

“The panhandling issue, most of these guys that are living on the streets in Martin aren’t allowed anywhere near YesWay, Bros., almost any store. They are trespassing there. We’ve made multiple arrests, unfortunately, dealing with that, because they continue to trespass on property they are not allowed to. City ordinance-wise, for dealing with panhandling, it’s tough.”

“The curfew issue, we’ve handled that most of the time. What happens with a lot of young kids, if they’re already out past curfew, obviously the parents aren’t taking concern for their kids. So what happens when we do catch these kids on curfew, is we can’t get ahold of their parents. We can’t cite a juvenile alone for a city ordinance violation without a parent’s signature to prove that they’re either going to fight it in court, or they’re going to pay the fine.”

“I can’t cite a kid under 18. Getting ahold of parents has been a huge problem with our curfew issue. We try to take a go at it the best we can. I’m stuck on how we can handle it. I have to get help from the parents and the community as well.”

Alexander continued, “If you’re wanting to address issues with law enforcement, I think visibility would be a start.”

“I agree,” replied Petersen. “Visibility at night time is tough. I’ve got a guy that’s resigning here. I have a new guy coming in and I’m trying to get another guy that’s certified to come in. There’s only three of us here that are going to put in large amounts of overtime hours. I try to cut my overtime hours so my guys  do get that in. We try to do 24/7, we have talked about it multiple times. I don’t know how to make it happen. My guys have to have two days off, and I have to have two days off, just like you do with your job. That puts two of us on every day of the week except one.”

Alexander reassured Petersen, “The thing is, you’re taking the defense that I’m attacking you, and I’m not. I’m saying that our council somehow is going to have to step up and address this. Whether it’s helping you with more people, or whatever. I just want you to understand.”

Mayor Rayhill added, “I know we’ve written letters to the problem landlords and landowners.”

Alexander addressed the council, “But are we just writing letters? Are we following through with it? I didn’t come here to debate it, I came here to say we have some issues going on and you guys need to look at it. It’s pretty embarrassing to me when I’m trying to bring a person in here to work, and it’s probably the same difference when you’re trying to hire an officer. They take a look at our community and they’re turning tail.”

“Somehow we have to turn this around. You guys are the leaders of the community, and we need to look at this as a community and try to develop and get things heading in a positive direction.”

Bill Kuxhaus added to the conversation, “A lot of other communities don’t try to put it all on the police department. They have a code enforcement officer, whose job would be to follow up on the sites that need to be addressed. They also have an animal control officer. It shouldn’t all fall on the police force, because they’ve got their job to do.”

Mayor Rayhill explained, “After we write the letters, then Brandon is instructed to go cite them. As the citations are listed, they go up in price.”

“Have you collected a lot of fines?” asked Kuxhaus.

Finance Officer Jean Kirk spoke up, “Some of the problem is that some of these properties are owned by someone who is no longer alive. I don’t know how we deal with that.”

Kuxhaus added, “I would volunteer to help you get through some of that. If you need someone to research that.”

Kirk continued, “We have ordinances, but who do you notify when there is not a person who is alive and nobody else owns the property. What do you do?”

Attorney Frankenstein explained, “It should have transferred to somebody through probate. If there’s no will at all it goes to the spouse or to the kids or something. It should take place with the register of deeds.”

Carol Saxton added to the conversation, “This is a positive comment, on the steps that you have done, but negative on the outcome. The van that I have talked to Brandon about, a sticker has been placed on there, they take it off, the van is still sitting there. You are going through the proper channels, it’s just that it drops when the owner is not around. We have permission to move it, and now it’s being loaded with trash. It’s getting tagged, but nothing is happening.

Petersen replied, “It’s also part of our job to get a tow company there. I think that’s part of the problem. Since YesWay no longer does towing, we’ve had a hard time getting a tow company.”

Mayor Rayhill asked the city attorney, “How much trouble can I get in if I tell Paul to go hook on to it with their loader and take it to the dump?”

Frankenstein replied, “As long as we follow our nuisance ordinances, we should be fine. If they don’t respond to the notice, the city can haul the junk car off and you can assess the cost against the property.”

The city will be declaring many properties as a nuisance according to 2-1-2, abandoned vehicle notice. Letters will be sent out to owners, with authority to remove the vehicles if the issue is not corrected. The details will be listed at next month’s meeting.

Law Department Report

Chief Petersen reported 128 calls for service for the month of July, with 212 total events logged. Twenty-nine arrests were made, with 17 being misdemeanors, and 12 felonies.

Petersen informed the council of the resignation of Tom McMillan effective Sunday, August 25. Nate Eisenmenger was offered a position, with the council approving his hiring at $15 per hour. The department is also looking to hire another officer who is qualified.

Petersen also informed the board that Paul Noel went to Huron to look at a vehicle for the police department. When Noel arrived at the meeting from his trip to Huron, he reported that the vehicle looked very good. It was very clean and the motor looked good. It has 33,000 miles on it, priced at $11,000. The council approved the purchase.

2018 Audit Presentation

Sara Rittgarn, with Gardner, Loutzenhiser and Ryan, P.C., of Chadron, presented the 2018 Audit to the council. “Everything looked good. The only two comments are the same ones that we have each year. Not enough people to verify what Jean is doing, and we prepare the financial statement.”

“All the funds made a little money last year. That’s always a good thing. Everything went really smooth when we were here.” The council approved the 2018 Audit Presentation.

BC Hazard Mitigation

Bennett County Emergency Manager Jeff Siscoe presented the Bennett County Hazard Mitigation Resolution to the council. He explained that it is the county’s local emergency plan, which is required to be updated every five years. The only changes made to the current plan is the updating of phone numbers and information for contact people within the plan.

“This plan defines how we react if the there was an emergency incident.” 

Siscoe was asked about improving the siren in the south part of town, in the Major Allen Street area. He explained that the siren is meant to be heard outdoors. “We are not trying to target people in their houses. It is supposed to warn those outside. People would be mad at us if we made it loud enough so people could hear them in their homes.”

Siscoe also reported that the tornado shelter signs at the fairgrounds are being moved so they can only be seen from within the fairgrounds, and not from the road. When seeing the signs from the road, they have been mistaken for showing that the fairground building is an emergency shelter, which it is not. The bottom portion of the sign gives the location of the Legion Gym as a shelter.

Preliminary damage assessments of road damage in the county are being documented for FEMA. Jeff invited the council to learn how the assessment is done, as any damage in town might require help from council members.

On Wednesday, September 18, county emergency personnel will be operating a training activity at the Project. The activity will simulate a dam failure at the Little White River Project, and involve all local agencies which might be involved in a real event. Siscoe invited at least two council members to be part of the training event.

Dollar General Plat

Mike Mantle, representing the Dollar General development company visited with the council about their planned building project. He reported that the company is close to acquiring a piece of property, and answered some of the council’s questions. 

The building will be an engineered metal building with a brick front, and paved parking lot. It will have one highway access, which the Department of Transportation has already signed. “We’re excited to get this thing kicked off before the snow comes.” He assured the council that Dollar General,  the development company, and their employees  will be responsible for maintenance of the property in front of the store. The motion to accept the plat was approved, and Mayor Rayhill signed the official plat. Building is scheduled to start within the next two to three weeks.

First Reading

2020 Budget

Mayor Rayhill read the First Reading of the 2020 Budget, which was approved by the council.

City Property

Kelvin McCollam addressed the council about the possibility of purchasing a plot of land from the city which is across from the city park to the south. It would be a commercial property, an office building. It would be clean, well taken care of. He was asked to provide a drawing of what he has in mind, and it will be put on the agenda for next month.

Trash Can Lids

The council was informed that the trash can lids for the public trash cans on Main Street which were recently ordered do not fit properly. Jean Kirk will contact the company for returning them.

City Pickups

When Street Manager Paul Noel arrived at the meeting, he discussed the city’s need for a city pickup. He would like to surplus the 1993 or 1999 Ford pickup. While checking out the vehicle for the police department, he found a 2011 3/4 ton 4-wheel drive Dodge pickup which he reports is like brand new, priced at $26,800  Following discussion about the vehicle, it was approved to take out a loan for both vehicles at the Federal Surplus business in Huron.

Building Permits

The only new building permit for Dollar General was approved. An extension until November 1 was granted to Ivan Sorbel for his project.

County Meeting

The council visited with City Attorney Sarah Frankenstein, about the positive outcome of attending the county commissioner’s meeting. The city and county have agreed to draft a joint powers agreement, which will allow the city access to the holding facility. The agreement will allow city officers to use it without  a county person present, as long as a city police officer would be there. No liability against each other could be made. While both parties use the same insurance company, Frankenstein will make sure there are no problems with insurance.

Executive Session

The council went into executive session, in accordance with SDCL 1-25-2.1, with no action taken following.

Next Meeting

The next regular meeting will be Wednesday, September 11, in the Library Community Room at 5:30 p.m.

502 Second Avenue, Martin, SD 57551 • 605-685-6866 •