City delays decision on nuisance house

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By Jeff M. Hardison

A decision by Chiefland city leaders about what, if anything, the city can do in regard to the cleanup of a house filled with human waste, animal waste, garbage, rats, roaches and fleas will have to wait a couple of weeks after the Feb. 11 City Commission meeting.

Two Chiefland women were jailed on Jan. 19 on four counts of child neglect.

The suspects are Heidi Ann Prophet, 35, and Donna Gail Deal, 64, both of 510 N.W. Fourth Ave. They were accused of child neglect because of the squalor they allowed children to live in at the house on Northwest Fourth Avenue.

City commissioners chose to wait until the Feb. 25 meeting before giving City Manager Grady Hartzog Sr. the authority to spend taxpayers' money to clean up the private mess. The Levy County Health Department reportedly ruled the conditions posed no public health threat because the waste was contained inside the house.

Hazardous material suits, Hartzog said, must be used by city personnel or a contractor to go into the house to remove material. These suits cost between $1,200 and $2,000, Police Chief Robert Douglas said.

Waste Pro has promised to donate dumpsters for the cleanup process, Hartzog said.

The city manager had hoped for a quote from Waste Pro for it to conduct the cleanup, but there was no price listed at the Feb. 11 meeting.

Douglas said he had spoken with County Judge Joseph Smith, as well as representatives from the State Attorney's Office and the Public Defender's Office to have the two women released during the cleanup.

The women would assure the cleanup crews do not dispose of valuable documents and the like during the process.

After the garbage and other waste is removed, Douglas said, Building Inspector Bill Hammond would review the structure to see if it was habitable due to mold and other problems.

Mayor Teal Pomeroy said it was nice of Waste Pro to donate dumpsters for this project. Fire Chief John Ward said there might be a need to contain some of the biohazards before removing them from the building.

Vice Mayor Teresa Barron said she would rather see the people who lived there clean up the mess, instead of the city cleaning it up.

"The only problem with that," Douglas said, "is that we don't know when they're going to get out of jail."

City Commissioner J. Rollin Hudson Jr. agreed with Barron, as he questioned whether the city should enter the house-cleaning business. This would set a precedent, Hudson said, where people would move out and leave a house as a mess and the city would get stuck cleaning it up.

Douglas said the potential of rats leaving the house and spreading disease is one of his concerns.

Hartzog was instructed to report back at the Feb. 25 meeting with a possible price so that the City Commission could discuss the options further.