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Revised ordinances will improve Newton’s ‘curb appeal’

Published: Friday, April 19, 2013 11:40 a.m. CDT

Over the last several months, there has been a concerted effort throughout the community to improve Newton’s “curb appeal.”

The re-launch of the Newton Housing Development Corporation and the Downtown SSMID were important first steps. And, the development of the city’s latest Comprehensive Plan has certainly set the stage for even more efforts in the near future.

The best way to deal with “curb appeal” issues is simple: be good neighbors. But, if we’re going to be honest with ourselves as a community, we must acknowledge there also needs to be some level of enforcement involved.

Some people don’t know how to be good neighbors. Some just aren’t wired that way. And, there are a number of homes in our community in which we’re not even sure who the “neighbor” is.

For these instances, the city has already enacted nuisance abatement ordinances. But, like all city ordinances, they must be reviewed and revised from time to time to meet the needs of the community in that moment.

Without these ordinances, Newton’s “curb appeal” would be much worse.

The revised nuisance ordinances put before the Newton City Council address a number of key challenges, not the least of which are the many homes in the community in foreclosure, or with absentee owners. But it also streamlines the enforcement process and clearly identifies which city officials are responsible.

This will be vitally important as the city continues to recruit new employers to make Newton their home. It will draw more residents who may work in the Des Moines metro, but are looking for a smaller community to call home.

And while some departments of the city government are responsible for knowing and enforcing specific parts of the Newton Code of Ordinances, the citizenry is responsible for obeying all of it. Some parts can be quite complex.

How does the average citizen know what they can or cannot do, even on their own property?

For its part, the city has set out the Code of Ordinances in an easy-to-read format on its website, www.newtongov.org. Simply click on the “Government” tab, then on “City Code” on the drop-down menu that appears.

But, to be fair, more could be done to educate the community. The city must ensure those who do not have access to the website still have access to the information they need to know in order to be good neighbors.

Beyond that, the key factor will be enforcement. If the city does go forward with nuisance abatement ordinances that more stringent, and carry stiffer penalties, it must also be fully prepared to enforce them, to the letter, both fairly and even-handedly.

Everyone knows the old adage, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” And, it should be no surprise there will be some who use the ordinances as a means of “getting even” in neighborly disputes.

But, at the end of the day, that will only mean a more attractive community that draws business, industry and — most importantly — people to Newton.

In the long term, that’s good for us all.

The preceding represents the opinion of the Newton Daily News Editorial Board. Letters to the editor in response may be submitted to newsroom@newtondailynews.com.

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