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AS WE SEE IT: Cleaning up

Two new pieces of legislation could help local officials clean up dumps and blighted properties across the county. The first, Senate Bill 86, which passed both the House and Senate with little to no objection, will award 100 percent of the fines levied for violation of open dumping laws to the county where the violation took place. This means more money for the county to enforce dumping laws, and more incentive to do so. 

With open dumps a huge problem across the county, this could give the county the boost they need to start making an impact on these sites, which are both eyesores and environmental hazards. 

One of the ideas often floated for promoting Carter County, to both investors and potential tourists, is our breathtaking rural scenery and natural areas. And it’s absolutely true, Carter County has some of the prettiest sights in the state, if not the world. But it’s hard to appreciate a waterfall when it flows past a rusted out washer and a dented old Frigidaire with no doors. 

If we’re going to seriously market the region to tourists and visitors, or encourage folks to invest here so their employees can enjoy the wild areas we offer, we need to clean it up. 

We laud our legislators for coming together, across partisan lines, and working to bring county’s this extra funding. 

The second, SB 105 related to blighted properties, unfortunately met with typical partisan bickering. It could have benefited from a good, old-fashioned compromise. Instead, the GOP led House is pushing forward with an override of Governor Andy Beshear’s veto of the bill.

The bill does some things that have needed done for some time. It gives counties a path to seizing abandoned and derelict properties, and either having them rehabilitated or destroyed. It applies to residential as well as commercial properties, and requires them to have been abandoned for at least one year and to have “numerous code violations.” The bill would allow counties to create a conservatorship for such properties, until issues were addressed. 

In his veto of the bill Governor Beshear acknowledged that a mechanism for cleaning up abandoned properties was needed. But, he wrote, “the standards under which a property could be taken are extraordinarily broad and subject to manipulation. Senate Bill 105 allows someone to seize property if it is vacant for one year. At one year, this could allow people to take advantage of people in nursing homes, or those who are ill. While abandoned and blighted properties need attention, Senate Bill 105 is not the answer.” 

The governor made some good points. But while SB 105 might have still been an answer, with some compromise and changes, the governor took a stand with his final line. 

“Senate Bill 105 is not the answer.” 

In response, the GOP is moving forward with pushing it through in spite of his veto. 

Here is an area where both sides make good points, and both sides agree that there is an underlying problem to address. But instead of sitting down together, doing the hard work, and coming up with a compromise – one that allows counties to clean up abandoned and decaying properties without leaving the door open to force the elderly or infirm out of their homes – sides were drawn and we’ll get something that may not stand the test of time. 

It will be challenged in court. It may be suspended, reinstated, changed by judicial order, or otherwise turned into a confusing, Swiss-cheese mess of a law, instead of something cogent that could have been achieved with a little more willingness to work together. 

There is no doubt that something needs done about derelict properties. Even the governor who vetoed the bill agreed.

Maybe if he ended his veto letter with a different closing, the door could have been left open. If he’d said, “as it is currently written, SB 105 does meet the necessary safeguards,” they could have encouraged compromise. Maybe, but probably not. 

The House GOP promised exactly what we are seeing if and when they achieved their super majority, and now they are delivering on what they promised. You can hardly fault them for delivering on what they campaigned on. 

But the governor makes some good points too. It would be a shame to have that baby thrown out with the dirty political bathwater. 

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