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Hubbard County adopts animal control ordinance, revises three others

The Hubbard County Board adopted amendments to three county ordinances and approved a new animal control ordinance at their April 3 meeting.

Commissioners questioned a provision in the shoreland management ordinance which prohibits home-based businesses to have employees. A new portion of the ordinance limited "home occupations" and "home extended businesses" to only the person(s) residing on the premises. The new language states, "No person other than the residents of the premises shall be employed or engaged."

"So if I had a successful business and it was growing, I could not hire an employee to come to my home to work? Isn't that what it's saying?" asked County Commissioner Char Christenson.

"Yes," said County Environmental Services Director Eric Buitenwerf, "but you'd also have an opportunity to apply for a variance from that provision to have an employee if you wanted to."

When asked why that provision was added, Buitenwerf said it was language was pulled from another county's ordinance and it ensures "the commercial use remains secondary to the primary use, being residential, on the property."

Board Chair Cal Johannsen said a couple daycare providers located within the shoreland district contacted him, expressing concern. If the provider gets sick, she may hire someone as a substitute. "This eliminates them from doing that," he said. "Is that what we're really trying to do? Shut down their business for a day because they're sick?"

Buitenwerf said the current ordinance doesn't allow any home-based business, so with the amendments "we're trying to increase the ordinance's flexibility to accommodate that." He suggested adding language permitting one or two employees.

If the county wishes to allow for commercial business use in the shoreland district, the environmental service office would have to flesh that language out further, continued Buitenwerf. "We don't have a lot options for commercial enterprises to take place in shoreland. That's something that has been suggested by our legal counsel over the years. We run into a lot of questions where somebody proposes a commercial use and how to fit that into the ordinance. We could benefit from having that conversation of what exactly the board would like to have for commercial uses and then develop that into the ordinance."

Christenson said she doesn't want daycare providers to have to pay the expense of getting a variance.

"We're putting something into the ordinance that we really can't enforce. How are we going to know if they've got an employee working there unless somebody complains?" Johannsen said.

County attorney Jonathan Frieden agreed. "Enforcement is always an issue. We have state statues on the books that are very, very difficult to enforce for practical reasons," he said.

The board agreed to add "up to two people on the premises" to the ordinance.

Subdivision and SSTS ordinances

The subdivision and subsurface sewage treatment systems (SSTS) ordinances had minor updates, such as changing environmental services "officer" to "director."

The "variances and appeals" sections also refer to the shoreland management ordinance.

"The purpose for that would be, when we make edits to that in the future, we only have to open up one ordinance as opposed to multiples," Buitenwerf said.

Regarding failing septic systems, the amended SSTS ordinance extends the timeline for upgrades or repairs if the system is within one foot of three-foot vertical separation requirement for the drainfield.

"We're saying anything greater than two feet isn't a significant health threat because the MPCA has admitted on more than one occasion that 18 inches was tested scientifically to be the treatment depth required for sewage effluent to be properly treated when it leaves the drainfield," Buitenwerf explained. "We worked with area contractors to come up with this language and that was the depth they recommended as being appropriate."

A system with less than 24 inches of vertical separation must be upgraded, repaired, replaced or abandoned within 12 months of notice of noncompliance.

A system with 24 inches or more of vertical separation is considered "non-conforming," but no upgrade or replacement is required until one of these conditions is met:

• 10 years have passed from the noncompliance inspection report;

• A bedroom is added to the structure;

• There is an increase in water usage; or

• As determined by a variance decision or conditional use permit.

"Our goal is to make it a lot less of a stress situation when properties are transferring and someone finds out the system is noncompliant and it throws the sale into jeopardy. We're trying to eliminate that where there isn't a real significant health concern on a system that's just barely non-compliant," Buitenwerf said.

The amended SSTS also removes the current requirement that a holding tank may only be used when the flow is less than 150 gallons of water per day or for "seasonal or intermittent" use.

"We feel that will be self-policing. People are going to quickly move to a drainfield system if they start spending too much money getting a holding tank pumped."

Finally, the board approved a simplified fee SSTS schedule:

• Residential SSTS $150.

• Privy $90.

• Commercial SSTS $300 (0-1,000 gallons per day or gpd), $500 (1,001-2,500 gpd), $700 (2,501-10,000 gpd).

• Reinspection fee $75.

Animal control ordinance

County Sheriff Cory Aukes said a county animal control ordinance is "long overdue."

Its purpose is "the control of nuisance, potentially dangerous and dangerous animals," whether mammal, reptile, amphibian, fish or bird.

"I simply want to hold irresponsible animal owners accountable. I'm not creating a leash law. I'm not creating registration for every animal you have. It's when we have a nuisance animal and the owner does not want to manage it. They need to be held accountable," Aukes said.

First offense is a $50 civil penalty. A second offense within 10 years of the prior violation results in a $100 fine. A third offense, within 10 years of the prior two instances, is subject to a $200 penalty.

Anyone who fails to pay the civil penalty within 14 days of notice is guilty of a misdemeanor and subject to a fine of up to $1,000, imprisonment for up to 90 days, or both.

The Hubbard County planning commission suggested a shorter time period between offenses, concerned that a vindictive neighbor could make trouble for someone over a decade.

Aukes and Frieden still recommended the 10-year period.

The board adopted the ordinance.