The highlight of Monday night’s Havre City Council meeting was not any of the resolutions shuffling budget funds, but the display of public outrage that capped the meeting.
A group of Havre residents who live on or near 7th Street, near 9th Avenue, came to confront council with frustrations built up over years of complaining about what they call filthy neighbors — with yards filled with widespread garbage, dead vehicles and very much living weeds — with little perceived action from the city.
Val Murri, who lives on 8th Avenue was the first to voice his frustration and implore that something be done.
“It’s a disgrace, ” Murri said. “We would like to see some results before the snow hits. Last winter there was garbage overflowing. We just don’t know what to do. ”
He said he had complained multiple times before, even assembling a petition, but was told it was a county sanitarian problem, though not much came out of contact with that office either.
Council member Allen “Woody” Woodwick asked Murri if anyone had tried talking to the neighbor directly.
Murry replied that he didn’t think it would do much good. If they did the work with the owner’s permission, they’d expect it to be done for them all the time. If they did it without owner permission, they’d be arrested for trespassing.
Clarence Wohlwend, who lives in the area on 8th Street, got a bit more passionate in his addressing the council.
“You can’t accurately describe what this looks like unless you go over there, ” Wohlwend said. “It’s atrocious.
“You better damn well believe there is a lot of frustrated people up there. ”
He explained to the council how he came to be so frustrated.
A few years ago Wohlwend called Woodwick, who he felt expressed more sympathy for the property owners he was complaining about.
Wohlwend felt more satisfied by the reactions of former Mayor Bob Rice, who personally drove over there to check out the problem and wanted to do something but doubted the effectiveness of helping, along the same lines as Murri’s concern.
He was also more impressed with former council member Terry Schend, who he said gained some temporary relief.
“I don’t know what he did, but for about six months it got better, ” Wohlwend said.
Another resident in the neighborhood, Bill Szudera, said that he feels that it’s unfair. While his neighbor has several cars on and along his property with no consequences, he once got a ticket for parking “with a tire on the sidewalk. ”
Szudera said this has been a problem for more than 30 years.
“Something needs to be done before someone up there decides to do something, and it won’t be good, ” Szudera said.
As it was a public comment portion of the meeting, the council couldn’t take any definitive action, but the mayor did assure the attendees that the city government would do more about it.
This morning, Interim Police Chief Gabe Matosich said that the department had been contacted a few months back. At that time they went up to the properties, took some pictures and gathered information to hand off to the city’s prosecutor, Tammi Barkus, to see if anything could be done, if any charges could be filed.
Barkus could not be reached by deadline this morning.
While many from the city said they didn’t know if anything could be done about these people’s private property, the city’s codes do seem to have some answers.
According to Havre’s Title 8, Health and Sanitation; Chapter 5, Nuisances; code 4:
“No person shall place any garbage, rubbish, refuse or other objectionable material, in any street, alley or other public place, or on any private property, whether owned by such person or not, within the city except it be in proper containers at ground level, for collection under the method provided pursuant to the authority of the Havre city codes. Any unauthorized accumulation of refuse or garbage or rubbish or other unsuitable material on any premises is hereby declared to be a nuisance and is prohibited. Failure to remove any existing accumulation of refuse within twenty four (24) hours after notice from the director of public works shall be deemed in violation of this section. ”
The penalties for that section are fines up to $300, 30 days in jail or both.