The Billings City Council wants to get strict on what it considers a nuisance.
The city has started the process of adopting changes to its nuisance ordinances that would give code enforcement officers more tools to go after abandoned, decaying or unsafe structures on neighborhood properties.
The council approved the first reading Monday night of updates to the nuisance ordinance with some adjustments to broaden its scope. It'll go before the council for a second reading in January and, if approved, it would go into effect on February 14.
At the meeting were a half a dozen concerned residents, many who spoke out about how the changes might impact their properties, businesses and hobbies.
Bill Milligan, who's had a long-running feud with city regarding his business Good Stuff on Broadwater Avenue, expressed his frustration to the council over how the city has handled code enforcement of his property.
In a case that began in 2009, Milligan was cited for 32 infractions by the city. The case went to court where each citation was eventually thrown out. Milligan told the council Monday night that even after that, he's still getting cited by the city.
"You don't want to have any bullies in this town but the city is the biggest one here," Milligan told them.
Nicole Cromwell, a city planner, code enforcement supervisor and zoning coordinator, explained to the council that code enforcement officers don't seek out infractions; rather they operate almost completely on complaints.
"If nobody sees (the infraction) and your neighbors don't have a problem with it, we're not going to go looking for it," she said.
The exception is if public safety is an immediate concern or enforcement officers discover the same infraction on a different property when they've gone to issue a citation on a property about which someone has complained.
In the case of Good Stuff, neighbors of the business have repeatedly complained to the city, something that frustrates Milligan because he was there first, he said.
So far this year, code enforcement has received roughly 6,000 complaints city wide, Cromwell said.
If a citation is issued it's usually done as a last resort, said Wyeth Friday, director of planning and community services for the city.
"We really don't go there often," he said. "We try to work with property owners extensively," he said.
Monday night's reading of the amended ordinance came after two years and four work sessions by city staff to make the adjustments. The city wants better tools to get properties into compliance "and (to) make it easier for property owners, city staff and court officials to work through cases," according to the staff report.