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Haywood tries new approach in dealing with unhealthy garbage

After enduring months of dogged opposition over a county rule that would protect residents from nasty garbage piles on their neighbor’s property, Haywood County leaders are trying a different tack.

The county has dropped the idea of a public health rule governed by the health department and instead will draft a health ordinance. An ordinance will allow more flexibility, while a rule under the auspice of the health department had to conform with state mandates.

Haywood County Commissioner Mark Swanger recommended the new approach, which garnered unanimous support from the rest of the commissioners.

Swanger said some sort of mechanism is necessary to protect people from unhealthy situations created by neighbors.

“It has nothing to do with aesthetics or that you just have a messy yard. It would have to be a demonstrated health risk,” said Swanger.

The scrapped health rule chiefly dealt with garbage that might attract disease-carrying rodents and mosquitoes, but would have also applied to an abandoned swimming pool that had become a health risk or a chemical spill, for example.

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While some opposed the spirit of the ordinance as meddling in the private property arena, others merely took issue with over-reaching enforcement and over-the-top punishment.

The rule allowed the health director to come onto private property without permission and offenders could have been charged with a class I misdemeanor.

Wording was changed to require the health director to first get a search warrant except in the case of an imminent hazard. But little could be done about the class I misdemeanor for violations, as that was the punishment mandated by the state. If written as an ordinance by the county, however, it could carry a lesser charge of a class III misdemeanor, Swanger said.

A small task force has been appointed to provide input on writing the ordinance, including two critics of the health rule in its original form.

One of those, Terry Ramey, said he hopes the new approach will help “bring people back together instead of being mad at each other.”

Ramey said too much bad blood exists between the critics of the rule and members of the health board for a compromise to be reached.

“It had gotten to a head-butting deal,” Ramey said. “It just got out of hand.”

Ramey said he is not against an ordinance in principle.

“We need something,” Ramey said. “Let’s say somebody had trash piled up and it was rotten and it had insects and stuff in it. We want something in place for situations like that. Even the people against it don’t want a really bad health hazard.”

But Ramey said the original rule left too much room for broad interpretation.

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