Joshua Dillen
The Baker City Herald

A local court administrator wants Baker City to budget more money to trim weeds, remove trash or handle other nuisances when the property owner refuses to do the work.

Baker Justice Court Administrator Michael Finney made the suggestion to the City Council Tuesday.

The Justice Court serves as the city’s municipal court.

When residents fail to address city code violations, such as keeping grass or weeds cut, the city can hire someone to do the work and then send a bill to the property owner.

The process starts when the city’s code enforcement officer goes to Justice Court to request an abatement order.

If the order is granted, the property owner has time to address the issue. If the owner fails to do so, the Justice Court judge can authorize the city to do the work and send the property owner a bill.

The city still has to pay for the job, though, and Finney told councilors that the city has run out of money for that purpose.

“So any abatement orders that the judge signs are essentially a moot point,” he said.

Finney said the city’s annual budget for nuisance abatements is $6,000.

“At least look at allocating some more funds for that abatement process because there’s no point in having it if you can’t do anything about it,” he said.

Councilor Daniel McQuisten asked Finney what he thought a reasonable amount would be.

Finney said he was not comfortable suggesting a dollar figure.

On Friday, City Manager Fred Warner Jr. said the city’s budget committee would need to consider Finney’s request next spring.

The city’s budget for the current fiscal year, which started July 1, was approved in June.

Finney said that as many as five abatement orders are issued by the court in some years, but typically two of them are actually dealt with before the city runs out of money.

He said that although the city sometimes doesn’t recover the money it spends quickly, it can place a lien on the property if the owner doesn’t pay. But the city might not collect the money until the property is sold.

Finney pointed out that the $6,000 the city allocates doesn’t pay for much work. Even cleaning trash from a property can cost a few thousand dollars.

Other jobs are much more expensive — Finney cited as an example a current abatement order for removing trees.

“I believe the estimate came in at about $10,000 or $15,000,” he said.

Mark Powell, the Police Department’s code enforcement officer, said the abatement order for the trees was granted in July 2016.

“I would’ve already abated, but the city doesn’t at this time have the money,” Powell said.

He said he has issued a citation each month to the property owner.

“It’s the only one in the entire city that has gotten that kind of attention,” he said

Police Chief Wyn Lohner said he would like to see more money for nuisance abatement.

“But the bottom line there is, there’s only so many dollars to go around and you have to prioritize that,” he said.

Lohner pointed out that the police department is not filling an open position because of budget issues the city is dealing with.

“That position is way more valuable than having money setting aside to abate properties,” he said. “So it’s all about where you’re going to put the money. Could we use it? Yes. Could I put three more code enforcement officers out there with Mark? Absolutely.”

See more in the Oct. 30, 2017, issue of the Baker City Herald.