Bell County Approves Public Nuisance Abatement Order
Belton, TX – On Monday, June 14, the Bell County Commissioners Court voted unanimously to approve a Public Nuisance Abatement Order. This new policy allows officials to issue notices to property owners for accumulating trash or refuse in a neighborhood.
Bell County’s Public Nuisance Abatement Order, which was created in accordance with Section 343.021 of the Texas Health and Safety Code, applies only to properties in the unincorporated areas of the county. It includes several definitions of a public nuisance, which include anything from conditions that are likely to attract mosquitoes or vermin, to surface discharge from on-site sewage.
If an offense is found, property owners will be issued a notice and have 30 days to abate or clean up the problem. If a property owner is found to have ignored the notice, the result is a misdemeanor and can result in a fine of $200. However, repeated convictions for failure to address nuisances can result in fines of up to $1,000 and up to six months in jail.
During discussion of the order, members of the Commissioners Court made clear that it would not be used as an excuse to write citations.
“We are not going to have a bunch of officers out looking for things to issue citations on,” Russell Schneider, County Commissioner of Precinct 1, said. “It’s another tool to expedite getting things done.”
Bobby Whitson, County Commissioner of Precinct 2, pointed out that the order includes multiple sections aimed at protecting the rights of residents.
“When the offense is given, it is a 30-day notice before a violation actually occurs,” Whitson said. “Before it is abated, you can request a hearing and talk to a judge about whether or not it really needs to be abated, so there are several steps in that process to ensure that everybody has a say.”
Whitson further stated that the purpose of the policy is not to limit the rights of private property owners but to protect the health and safety of neighbors being exposed potential breeding grounds for pests or fire hazards.
“It only comes into effect when it affects somebody else’s property or public safety,” Whitson said.
Bill Schumann, County Commissioner of Precinct 3, pointed out that this policy has been years in the making.
“We did not do this lightly or overnight,” Schumann said. “What we’re finding is that in neighborhoods in the county, outside of the city, there are neighbors who are not very considerate.”
Schumann discussed cases in which a single house in a subdivision had trash accumulating in the front yard and attracting rats.
“It’s come to a point at which we have to have some ability to take care of those problems,” Schumann said.
Bell County Judge David Blackburn agreed that the purpose of the order is protect public health.
“I believe that the county has always tried to work with property owners over the years to get compliance,” Judge Blackburn said. “The end goal for all of this is not to issue citations or injunctions or set assessments on properties. The end goal is just to get compliance.”
Read the Public Nuisance Abatement Order here.