October 27, 2011 |

Assembly pencils in $30K for wrecks

The Haines Borough Assembly would spend up to $30,000 to remove and dispose of junk on a Small Tracts Road property under a "last resort" plan introduced Tuesday.

It was unclear this week how or if the borough would recoup removal costs from landowner Lucy Harrell.

"If the borough is in the position where we have to do this work, we have to pay somebody to do it," said borough manager Mark Earnest. "In order to contract with somebody to do the work, I have to have the budget authority to enter into that."

Harrell owns the "nuisance" former tire shop property the borough describes as containing 18 abandoned vehicles, a boat, five scrap motorcycles, more than 300 tires and multiple engine blocks.

The assembly on Tuesday introduced an ordinance for a budget amendment that would appropriate $30,000 "for the removal, processing, and storage of junk vehicles from private property and to recognize revenues from the property owner." The first public hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 15.

Assemblyman Scott Rossman questioned the validity of the borough’s projection that it would be repaid $25,000.

"You can write this number in there and say you’re going to get ‘miscellaneous revenue,’ but that’s only if somebody decides they’re going to pay you," Rossman said. "You can go through all the procedures you want, but it doesn’t mean you’re ever going to collect a nickel."

Earnest expressed confidence the borough would get its money back. "I want it to be clear that the borough will proceed to collect the costs."

Harrell has said junked vehicles were dumped on her property without her permission, and "it’s the duty of government to deal with this problem, because no individual can." She was not at Tuesday’s meeting.

Earnest said he would prepare a memo of options on how to recover costs.

"As part of the research into this, we’ve come across issues related to how this is going to be paid for," he said. "How much should the borough’s involvement be, if any? How much should be the individual car owner’s?"

Earnest said he is working on "a comprehensive junk vehicle program to collect and process, store and ship out a large number of vehicles."

"There are a number of different mechanisms that we can work toward," he said. "One of them is a vehicle disposal tax that could be added on to the state vehicle registration fee, something that Juneau has done."

Tire shop neighbor Fred Einspruch in September wrote to Earnest that the borough was "derelict in its duties and responsibilities in enforcing borough code." Einspruch said he would "take all reasonable and legal remedies available to me to resolve this situation."

Earnest said the Harrell property must be addressed individually.

"Under the borough code, we are required to proceed after receiving a formal complaint of a violation with dealing with this issue, in this particular property," he said. "This is the first step in proceeding with that. In the event that any landowner is unwilling to deal with the issue and the situation, the borough would be required to appropriately deal with the collection. Then, the borough would attempt to recoup its costs."

Acme Transfer this month estimated abatement would cost at least $21,360.

"The cost of some items such as the boat and engine blocks will not be known until they are weighed," wrote borough consultant Darsie Culbeck. "It’s likely the total cost will be close to $25,000."

Earnest in his report for the assembly this week wrote, "It should be noted that other options for this program are currently being reviewed."

"There’s going to be a distaste in the public’s eye on this, that we’re going to clean up someone else’s mess," said assemblyman Steve Vick.

Also this week, Earnest provided a draft "request for qualifications" for design services for a new community center that included new borough offices and a recreation center. There is a Nov. 29 deadline for responding to the request.

Earnest said his decision to seek a consulting firm to help with planning was driven by a recent comprehensive plan opinion survey that found 71 percent support for "converting the old school building into a recreation center with multi-purpose rooms," and the assembly’s approval of tearing down the old elementary school and gymnasium.

"When I look at that question, I read that as people who support a community center, in theory," Earnest said. "There’s no way to split that vote between new vs. used or community center vs. no community center."

The request said the center would be "located at the intersection of Main Street and Third Avenue," but Earnest said that was an error and planning will be "site neutral."

According to the document, "The initial construction project has not been firmly defined, but the first phase is nominally envisioned to include borough administrative offices and a recreation center. The initial scope of redevelopment could shift and other phases could be added with time."

Earnest said he included borough offices because the building should address the borough’s "pressing needs."

Earnest said planning would rely on "the community prioritizing and the assembly making decisions on defining the project as we move forward."

"That’s why I’m generically referring to it as the ‘community center,’ because we don’t know, at this point, what would be in there," he said. "I think the large plan should include administrative offices – assembly chambers, meeting room, that sort of thing – and a recreation component. What portions of that we start with, first, would come out of this process."

Demolition of the old school building is set to begin Friday.

Newly elected assembly members and incoming Mayor Stephanie Scott will be sworn in Monday. The assembly will meet as a committee 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 3, in the assembly chambers.