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Local man reprimands council on nuisance ordinances

Published: Tuesday, June 18, 2013 11:48 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, June 19, 2013 4:29 p.m. CDT

Pete Koppin, a World War II vet and longtime resident of Newton, voiced his concerns about the city’s newest nuisance ordinances at Monday’s Newton City Council meeting.

Koppin, who has lived in Newton for 86 years — all his life — spoke during the citizen’s participation portion of the meeting about the City’s newest nuisance ordinances. Koppin said that the ordinances weren’t enough to deter property owners from keeping their properties unkempt.

“I commend you on the nuisance ordinance that you passed,” Koppin said, “You didn’t go far enough, in my estimation. It’s when you get in the pocketbook of people with fines for doing this and that — then it  becomes evident they don’t want to do that.”

Koppin lobbied that only higher fines would prevent people from blowing their grass clipping into the street or not mowing their yard entirely. He said that other towns levy up to $250 on the property when the ordinances aren’t followed.

“It’s not clear to everybody what you’re even doing,” Koppin said.

Mayor Michael Hansen said that Koppin is entitled to his opinion but believes the council is doing a good job of evaluating ordinances. He said the city staff made the recommendations for the new ordinances based on extensive research.

“The philosophy of the fines is about compliance, not penalization,” Hansen said. “We’re not after building our treasury. We’re after compliance.”

Council member Craig Trotter also said the purpose of the new ordinances is not to levy large fines, and takes into consideration the financial situation of Newtonians.

“Quite frankly, we have to be concerned about people’s ability to pay those fines,” Trotter said. “We have to be realistic too.”

Koppin left the meeting right after expressing his concerns and wasn’t pleased with the council’s response.

“I think it went in one ear and out the other,” Koppin said.

With him, Koppin had brought a copy of the nuisance ordinance from 2002. He said that he’s been researching the topic for quite a while. He said that he has a strong vested interest in the quality of life in Newton.

“We should all do our share,” he said, “Whether it’s renters or property owners.”

The council also listened to a presentation from City Administrator Bob Knabel on the status of Newton’s housing market. During the presentation, Knabel stated that 60 percent of people who work in Newton don’t live in the city because of the lack of affordable housing.

“A goal of attracting more jobs and people is meaningless without a reasonable supply of housing that they can afford,” Knabel said, quoting the city’s CHAT report.

The report also found that the city averaged five single family units every year for the last five years. The report also stated that the city has several strengths as well, including excellent quality of life features, existing housing stock and its location along Interstate 80 and proximity to Des Moines.

One of the biggest challenges, according to the report, is the lack of affordable housing.

“It’s not just about availability, but affordability,” Council member Noreen Otto said.

The chat report suggests using options like tax increment financing or bonds to help build new housing developments.

“It is possible to do this if we make an investment in our resources,” Knabel said.

The city staff has recommended that the Newton Housing Development Corporation be brought back to lead the change in Newton’s housing market.

Staff writer Dave Hon may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 425, or at dhon@newtondailynews.com.

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