By JOSH NEWTON
Members of the Tahlequah City Council passed an ordinance Monday night that addresses the removal of unauthorized graffiti on public and private property.
During the council’s special meeting Monday night, Mayor Jason Nichols said he “fumbled pretty badly” when he introduced the ordinance at the last council meeting.
Nichols said the ordinance isn’t a new rule, but instead weakens current code by introducing a 20-day waiting period for removing unauthorized graffiti.
He said he hopes placing the graffiti issue in the forefront of public discussion will also benefit future projects. Nichols said he has spoken with several local groups about helping to remove graffiti around Tahlequah at little or no cost to property owners or the city.
“We all understand the property owner is the victim,” Nichols said. “[With the ordinance], we’ve weakened the rules and actually slowed down the process. I think it was misunderstood that we were putting a new rule in place.”
Nichols said the new ordinance is an attempt at being “fair, lenient, and still get the job done.”
The ordinance outlines graffiti-removal standards and prohibits unauthorized graffiti from remaining in place for more than 20 days. After 20 days, the city’s code enforcement officer can give the property owner 10 days’ notice to take action before city officials can do the work and charge the property owner.
During Monday’s special meeting, city councilors also approved of an ordinance that allows up to a $500 fine for those who illegally park in handicapped parking zones. Nichols said the violations are an “epidemic.”
If Tahlequah Police Chief Nate King feels inclined, he may choose to create a volunteer citizen-enforcement group that could help find infractions and provide photographic evidence for use in prosecution.
King told councilors he expects the traffic violations to be addressed more in the future because of the new ordinance.
City asked to amend Dumpster ordinance
Tahlequah business owner Bryce Felts approached councilors Monday evening and asked them to amend an “unfunded mandate” passed earlier this year, which set guidelines on business owners who use Dumpsters.
Felts said the ordinance did not provide a “grandfather” clause for existing businesses.
Felts said he received estimates on the materials and labor needed to comply with the new ordinance, and discovered he could spend $1,322 to $1,804 per Dumpster to meet the new standards by the end of this year. Estimates indicated he could pay $34,138 to upgrade his 24 Dumpsters.
Felts told councilors there are more than 1,500 Dumpsters in the city, and the ordinance could cost business owners just shy of $2 million.
“We have national tenants and small mom-and-pop businesses,” Felts said of his property business.
“This ordinance will place an undue burden on the smaller businesses because they will have short-term leases of one to three years, where national chains are 10, 15 to 20 years.”
Felts said the costs associated with ordinance compliance will be first passed along to the small-business owners, who will see their leases come up for renewal ahead of the national chains.
“We have no way to pass on this cost to our national tenants, so this ordinance favors the national tenants at the cost of small mom-and-pop businesses,” Felts argued.
Felts also said enclosing Dumpsters could lead to safety problems and introduce new hiding spots for criminal activity.
During the discussion, Nichols and Les Ford, head of the city’s solid waste services, explained that Felts would not be required to install concrete pads for his Dumpsters under the requirements of the ordinance, so some of his costs would be reduced.
Ward 4 Councilor Linda Spyres suggested the city could consider extending the deadline for businesses to be in compliance – but said she otherwise supports the ordinance.
“I can see where having it done by the first of the year could be a little troublesome for you,” Spyres said. “But after seeing this on the agenda, I drove around town and looked at the Dumpsters, and it looks like crap, quite honestly. They are overflowing, there’s stuff coming out of them, and it needs to be hidden.”
Felts said he would appreciate any assistance the city can offer that helps defray costs, but said he ultimately opposes the ordinance for placing unfunded mandates on businesses.
No action could be taken on Felts’ proposed amendment, but Nichols promised it would appear for possible action on the next agenda.
Th next regular meeting of the Tahlequah City Council will be held at 7 p.m., Monday, Nov. 4, in council chambers of city hall.