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Can too many ordinances kill a town?

Laconia, a rural crossroads town of 60 or fewer souls not far from the Ohio River in southern Harrison County, recently put the finishing touches on an innovative sewage treatment system that folks should find affordable, thanks to riverboat revenue and a state grant that helped finance the project.
Without sewage treatment, leaders feared the town was doomed. Empty lots could not be developed because there isn’t room for the lateral lines that go along with septic systems, which, in some cases, were already failing. Then along came boat money in 1999, and town board president Joseph Kingsley saw the answer to the problem he had sought to resolve some 26 years.
Now Kingsley and others see a brighter future for Laconia and want to take more steps toward improvement by getting rid of unsafe buildings and mowing down weeds and rank vegetation where mosquitoes, snakes and vermin breed.
But strong opposition surfaced at recent town meetings, when the ordinances it would take to accomplish those goals were read.
“It didn’t go over very big,” Kingsley said. “They don’t want no ordinances at all.
“I think they’d like to kick us all out.”
That’s a fairly good assessment of some townspeople’s feelings, said Kimberley Smith, an outspoken opponent on the town’s plans.
“If you are having problems with one or two individuals with the way their properties are maintained, work with the county, state or federal laws instead of creating more town ordinances which affect everyone,” she opined. “We are not a gated community, military base or a large town. Laconia is a small town.
“Too many ordinances will cause animosity, fear and anger. This is an undue stress on the residents of Laconia.
“Too many ordinances can kill a town.”
At a recent town board meeting, officials appointed an ad hoc committee to recommend ordinances to resolve the problems.
“When we came back for the second reading, here was all this opposition,” Kingsley said. “I said, ‘Well, if you don’t like the ordinances we’re working on, you write them.’ ”
The committee has been given until the first of March to do so. “Then we will put these ordinances together and see which is which,” Kingsley said.
Maurice Roby, who serves on the committee with Tod Smyrichinsky and John Turner, said the committee has distributed copies of the ordinances to each household in Laconia and instructed the residents to read the documents, make notes on their own recommendations, and attend a meeting Saturday to voice their opinions and/or requests for services.
“Our job was to distribute the paperwork where the people could read it,” Roby said. “We were paper boys. The committee’s job was to get the word out.”
The town board will review the documents submitted by the people, and then act, Roby said. He expects the town to follow the majority’s wishes.
“We have still got a say in our government,” Roby said.
Corydon attorney Marian Pearcy has drafted the ordinances (which incorporate state law) for Laconia and two other small towns, New Middletown and Crandall. The ordinances allow the towns to act on their own to avoid lengthy delays.
The first two towns have adopted the ordinances without problems, and the rules are working to benefit residents, she said.
The ordinances for Laconia have been advertised; all rules and regulations that must be met before the rules can be adopted and enforced have been followed to the letter, Pearcy asserted. Nevertheless, some residents act as though she has done something wrong.
“They would like to tar and feather me and run me out of town,” she said.
Contrary to Smith’s claims, Pearcy said, the ordinances are constitutional.
New Middletown Clerk-Treasurer Cyndi Mattingly said, “I do believe, especially in Laconia, there is a lot of false information out there regarding how the towns will enforce these ordinances.
“Here in New Middletown, the only thing we want for those that are not in compliance is an honest and continued attempt to bring their property into compliance,” Mattingly said. “The New Middletown board members have always extended their help whenever needed, as I’m sure Laconia board members will do so as well.
“I think many people also think that the board members will be on a fishing expedition looking for things that are unsafe or not in compliance. However, that is not true.”
Mattingly said the weed and rank vegetation ordinances provide measures to protect against the mosquito-born West Nile virus by eliminating conditions – such as high weeds and pooling water – that improve breeding grounds for mosquitoes.
Smith said the town should work with laws and agencies already in place to deal with such problems instead of passing more laws that are unnecessary.
The committee’s meeting on Saturday (Feb. 8) will be held at the firehouse at 11 a.m.