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Barb Ickes: Want to see a nuisance? Check the bill
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BARB ICKES

Barb Ickes: Want to see a nuisance? Check the bill

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$231 fine

This offending box and branch pile (top row) got Moline couple Debbie and Daron VanZuiden a warning of a nuisance violation from the city of Davenport. The city later picked it up for a $231 fine (bottom row).

Several of the neighbors’ yards are a whole lot worse. But Debbie and Daron VanZuiden got popped.

The Moline couple, owners of Java Java on Davenport’s East River Drive, got a notice in the mail Oct. 8, warning of a nuisance violation at their rental property at 1105 Scott St., Davenport.

Their crime: A cardboard box and a small pile of tree branches were spotted in the rental’s back yard.

No record exists, according to the city’s environmental inspection office, regarding the origin of the complaint. It is not clear whether a citizen complained or a city inspector simply spotted the “debris” and sprang into action.

The result, however, is clear: a $231 bill from the city for disposing of the box and small collection of limbs.

Of course, the VanZuidens should have picked up the stuff and spared themselves the fine. Instead, they called their renter, told him about the letter and presumed he did as they asked. When it rained for five of the following seven days, however, the renter evidently decided the box and branches could wait.

“I could see if there was trash everywhere, or we were ignoring the property,” Daron VanZuiden said. “But we’re doing the best we can.”

Debbie VanZuiden added, “We put a new furnace in last year and replaced screens, doors and light fixtures. We’ve had some difficulty renting, because of the neighborhood, but we take care of the property.”

In fact, their property on Scott Street is in noticeably shipper shape than several of their immediate neighbors.

On Friday afternoon, the next-door neighbor’s yard contained a broken old upside-down chair. The next house had garbage in the yard, including cardboard and large pieces of wood. But the third house is really bad, and parts of that yard are covered in piles of brush.

There also was a brush pile right across the alley from the VanZuidens’.

“When inspectors go to one location, they generally take a look around,” said Mike Clarke, Davenport’s director of public works. “We don’t pick on anybody.”

The evidence appears contrary to the policy, however.

Daron VanZuiden noted another occasion in which he contacted the alderman for the Scott Street property to get some help because neighborhood kids broke out several windows when the house was between renters.

His family went out of town for a week and returned to find a bill in the mail from the city for more than $400 for boarding up the broken windows.

“Alderman (Bill) Boom had good intentions, I think,” Daron VanZuiden said. “I was hoping for a different kind of help, though. I thought maybe we could get the police involved, because the neighbor kids would break in when there was no tenant.

“I don’t think the city should do these pickups for free. I get it. But $231 to pick up a box and a branch?”

The cost breakdown is: Minimum hourly rate, $95; administrative fee, $120; tipping charge for the landfill, $16.

Clarke said the purpose of the “stiff” fees is to get residents’ attention and make them more inclined to comply when the city points out a problem.

By Friday afternoon, the computers at City Hall were clicking out more problems.

The inspector who apparently didn’t take the time to “look around” when busting the VanZuidens went back to Scott Street and took a gander up the alley.

“It was a good observation on your part, and we went back,” Clarke said of the photos I emailed of the neighboring yards.

And how did the inspector miss the obvious violations when he slapped the VanZuidens with violations?

“I’m not going to defend it or say it was right or wrong,” Clarke said. “He performed his inspection and moved on.”

He did, however, defend the city’s fees for making the nuisance go away.

“It’s kind of a wake-up call,” he said.

So is a large French vanilla espresso, but that’s only four bucks.

Contact Barb Ickes at 563-383-2316 or bickes@qctimes.com.

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