By Mark Waite
Nye County cleaned up its first nuisance property, at 561 W. Irene St., last month.
But a drive around the Pahrump Valley will show the county has a long way to go before it cleans up every messy lot. There’s a lot of properties that, shall we say, wouldn’t make it on the Parade of Homes list.
George Bernath, Nye County chief of code compliance, estimated there could be as many as 250 active code compliance cases. Some of them are parcels that have reverted back to the county for non-payment of taxes, he said.
“There’s a couple of burned-out properties. We’re going to be cleaning them up shortly,” Bernath said.
Some properties look like a bomb hit them, he said.
Part of the problem cleaning up nuisances has been the bureaucratic delays. Former Nye County District Attorney Bob Beckett didn’t want to act on the cases when he was in office; in 2010 he was replaced by Brian Kunzi, who is more actively pursuing them.
A written complaint has to be filed; code compliance officers can’t initiate an action on their own. After a complaint is filed, code compliance has five days to investigate. If it’s considered a violation, the county will cite the property owner — who is often discovered using assessor’s records — and send them a notice requesting compliance.
“A lot of people just ignore the letter. We would then prepare the case to go before the BOCC and it would be up to the BOCC to decide if it’s a public nuisance or not,” Bernath said. “We’re in the process of preparing several cases.”
Only three nuisance cases have been presented to county commissioners. They date back to as far as 2004 and were under discussion in 2007, but dropped off the radar after that until just recently.
Another problem cleaning up properties is money. Nye County Code allows attaching a lien to someone’s property for the cost of a cleanup, but that doesn’t reimburse the county.
After the cleanup at 561 W. Irene St., commissioners balked at waiving the tipping fees at the landfill.
“For that case it was only $936. There are a couple of cases, the dump fees would’ve been in excess of $30,000,” Bernath said.
That put the cost of the Irene Street cleanup at over $5,000, he said, a bill commissioners will consider at their next meeting.
Nye County Public Works Director Dave Fanning wanted the request to waive the tipping fee pulled from the consent agenda at the Sept. 4 county commission meeting.
“Waiving of the landfill fees are something that is a big concern to public works, given the fact that these cleanups are so costly, and it’s obviously eating up my air space at the landfill,” he said.
Fanning inquired whether the county could add the cleanup cost onto the tax bill for a property owner.
Nye County District Attorney Brian Kunzi suggested commissioners pass a motion not requiring the contractor to pay the tipping fee, but assessing it against the property as a lien.
Commissioner Dan Schinhofen indicated he had concerns in general over slapping a lien on properties to collect fees.
“This has been going on seven years. None of us take this lightly. This is one of the most serious things we can do as a board is use the power of government on someone’s property. But everything’s been followed, it’s been going on and on and on,” Schinhofen said.
Bernath said he only has one inspector for the Pahrump Regional Planning District and himself, and he doesn’t ordinarily go out in the field.
Deputy District Attorney Charlie Watkins said he’s sent probably 30 letters to property owners requesting compliance.
“Probably the majority of them are willing to work with code enforcement and actually start cleaning up their properties,” Watkins said.
The county is offering community resources to the property owners, like free Dumpsters and people who will pick up and reprocess scrap metal, he said.
Rick Flores, the property owner at 561 Irene St., told commissioners Pahrump Valley Recycling was collecting some of his metal. The DA’s office filed for an administrative seizure warrant to enter his property and clean it up.
Flores told commissioners he lost everything in a fire Dec. 3 that torched two mobile homes, but county officials had run out of patience. Flores said the Nevada Division of Motor Vehicles told him vehicles on his property had to be cut into sections, since titles were lost in the fire.
Bernath said a property owner at 2420 W. McMurray Dr., the next on the list, wants more time to clean it up and have shown they made some progress.
“As long as they show progress, we won’t abate the property,” he said.
The McMurray Drive property has been a code compliance case since Sept. 16, 2004.
Jerry Scholtke, 2100 Cash St., showed photos to the Pahrump Valley Times of a torn-up trailer on Vandervoort Street with loads of trash scattered about it, on a dead-end street off Vicki Ann Drive a block south of Heritage Street. The property has been vacant and a mess since the last owner five years ago, he said.
Scholtke, a retired Nevada Test Site worker, said he and a couple of neighbors filled out complaint forms they received by mail from the county and sent them back. He said cats brought over three rats to his house so far and was concerned over the hantavirus.
“This is a health hazard. I don’t care what they call it. It’s hurting Pahrump. People come out, they drive around, they see this stuff and they wonder what’s going on,” Scholtke said.
Scholtke said he never heard anything about their complaint, Bernath said there’s a code compliance case on the property in the system.
The last owner, Scholtke said, was Elia Mary Villegas, who attempted to open a beauty salon on the corner of Vicki Ann and Vandervoort Drive in early 2007. Neighbors Alberta Beitman and Margarita Sheldon objected to a master plan amendment and request for a zone change to neighborhood commercial for the beauty salon; Beitman complained the property was poorly taken care of and submitted photos to the Pahrump Regional Planning Commission. Former RPC member Charles DuPre suggested Beitman speak to the county code enforcement officer.
Nye County Commissioner Butch Borasky said the Pahrump Valley looks more cleaned up than it did when he took office in 2006. In addition to the bathroom fixtures, discarded mattresses, chairs, wood and other debris littering the Vandervoort Drive location, Borasky looked at footings left in the ground from another trailer. It indicated the problems cleaning up these abandoned trailers.
“Now people are scarfing off the skins, the wire and stuff like that to scrap it and then they leave that. The frame is under there, you just don’t chunk that up and take it to the dump. You got to rip it, all of the frame, and it’s on there real hard,” Borasky said.