BELL COUNTY, Texas — Bell County residents can face fines or jail time if they do not remove trash or debris from their properties after 30 days of being cited, according to the new Public Nuisance Abatement Order.
The new order, which was unanimously approved by the Bell County Commissioners Court on Monday, was designed to give the county more options when it came to addressing problem properties, especially outside of the county.
The order expands on the definition of what is considered a "public nuisance," including a more broad definition of what's considered an abandoned vehicle. Residents can also be cited for things like surface discharge from on-site sewage to conditions that attract mosquitos or vermin.
If an offense is found, property owners will be issued the citation and will have 30 days to attest to it, abate it or clean up the problem. If the notice was ignored, there will be a fine of $200 for the first offense.
Repeated offenses can result in fines of up to $1,000 and up to six months in jail, according to the new order. The county can also put a lien on a home if the county has to come out to the property and clean up the mess for them.
“When the offense is given, it is a 30-day notice before a violation actually occurs,” said Bobby Whitson, County Commissioner of Precinct 2. “Before it is abated, you can request a hearing and talk to a judge about whether or not it really needs to be abated, so there are several steps in that process to ensure that everybody has a say.”
During discussion of the order, members of the Commissioners Court made clear that it would not be used as an excuse to write citations.
"We are not going to have a bunch of officers out looking for things to issue citations on,” Russell Schneider, County Commissioner of Precinct 1, said. “It’s another tool to expedite getting things done.”
Whitson further stated that the purpose of the policy is not to limit the rights of private property owners but to protect the health and safety of neighbors being exposed of potential breeding grounds for pests or fire hazards.
“It only comes into effect when it affects somebody else’s property or public safety,” Whitson said.
“I believe that the county has always tried to work with property owners over the years to get compliance,” Judge Blackburn said. “The end goal for all of this is not to issue citations or injunctions or set assessments on properties. The end goal is just to get compliance."
Read the Public Nuisance Abatement Order below or click here.