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Local mechanic: Vehicle ordinance in need of repair

1/24/2014

By RANDY GONZALES

By RANDY GONZALES

rgonzales@dailynews.net

Hays city commissioners were told property owners with vehicle abatements on the agenda for Thursday night's meeting now had their properties in compliance.

One property owner cited -- Chris Miller, owner of Auto Tech, 600 Vine, and who also owns the property at 602 Vine -- discussed the city ordinance with commissioners at last week's work session. When an abatement is issued, city officials order the vehicle's removal.

Miller also spoke with commissioners on the issue at Thursday's meeting, which was held in packed meeting quarters.

Miller, who previously had several inoperable and partial vehicles on the adjoining properties, only had one inoperable vehicle there as of late Thursday afternoon, commissioners were told. The ordinance goes into effect when there are two or more inoperable vehicles on a property for more than 30 days.

Commercial properties are allowed multiple inoperable vehicles, if they are located behind a screened fence.

Miller voiced his disagreement with the ordinance.

"If a vehicle is sitting on our property for an extended period of time, as a business owner, we have a reason that vehicle is there," Miller said. "Our business is repairing broken-down vehicles; that's why they're at our place."

After the meeting, Hays City Manager Toby Dougherty said the abatement ordinance worked as intended.

"I think it worked just fine," he said. "I don't think our staff was overreaching by enforcing the ordinance.

"The vehicles had been there for a while; they were enforcing the intent of the ordinance. We don't pick on business owners."

During the meeting, Commissioner Ron Mellick said a business on Vine Street has a high-profile location, and appearances are important.

"Something that you guys need to remember is that you are the front porch to our city," he said.

The abatement process on Miller's properties started with a resident's complaint.

"This isn't just directed at you from the city," Mellick told Miller. "These are citizens that are concerned."

Hays Mayor Kent Steward told Miller the commission will review the ordinance at its next work session, Feb. 4. The ordinance went into effect in 1973, and sometime before 2000 it was revised to include the screening requirement for commercial businesses.

In other business:

* Commissioners were split on whether to raise fees for the Hays Aquatic Park and Wilson Pool. By a 3-2 vote, the commission approved raising the fee by $1 at each location for individuals ages 18 and older. They now will pay $4 for admittance to the water park and $3 for the pool.

Those ages 3 to 17 would pay $3 at the water park and $2 at the pool. Children younger than age 3 would be admitted free to both locations.

The city contractually was obligated to cover $20,000 of the Hays Recreation Commission's pool operating losses last summer, which had unusually cool temperatures.

Steward voted against the measure, in part due to the weather last year.

"We had an extremely unusual summer that caused the subsidy to be higher," he said. "More than likely, it's going to get hot again."

Steward thought raising the price would be a hardship on citizens.

"I believe that there are people -- even this dollar -- it will be a real problem for," he said.

Commissioner Henry Schwaller IV also voted against the motion. He wondered why they couldn't split the difference, and raise the fee 50 cents.

"The $3 for Wilson Pool is unreasonable," he said.

Schwaller also said the logic for raising the prices was flawed.

Schwaller contended fewer people would use the facilities if prices were raised.

"I think it's wise to look at the season passes," as an option, Schwaller said. "That's where the money is. Whether they go or not, there's revenue."

* Commissioners approved 5-0 to have standard tournament green fees of $15 per person for all tournaments at Fort Hays Municipal Golf Course.

* Commissioners approved adding a junior golf greens fee in the amount of $10, starting March 1, at Fort Hays Municipal Golf Course. Those covered by the reduced fee would be ages 17 and younger, and the change would make it more affordable for them to play.

In the commissioners' comment period at the end of the meeting, Steward wanted to warn Hays residents about water usage this summer.

"We're in the fourth year of a drought," Steward said. "Under established city guidelines, if there isn't significant precipitation this winter or early this spring, we're going to enter next summer with pretty much a total ban on outside watering. We'll lose lawns and bushes and trees, if it comes to that."