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YC Magazine, Libertarian Commentary, February 2012

Stop the Roadblocks

Who knew the York County Council meetings were so exciting? Thanks to our fearless leaders, you can watch the Monday night action in the comfort of your own home at www.yorkcountygov.com/CountyCouncil then click on the top left link under “Council Actions, Agendas, and Videos.”

If you have a pressing issue on zoning, taxes, or county management and need your voice heard, it’s best to make the council aware of your thoughts in person if possible. You can speak at the beginning of the meeting, but they do need to know ahead of time to add your name to the agenda (by Thursdays at noon).

On the video of January 17, business owner Michael Thomas of Scroungers was a very lively speaker at the beginning of the meeting. His message to the Planning Commission was to “get out of my way” and stop obstructing his business. What should have taken 10 minutes he said, has dragged on for 10 months.

We’d like to thank him for exercising his first amendment right to petition for a governmental redress of grievances on behalf of himself and other small businesses. While his account is only one side of the story, there are many stories similar across the nation.

Thomas has been trying to do some basic interior building renovations for ten months, but he said the Planning Commission kept adding to the list of things he was required to do, and people he needed to get approval from to get his permit. The Planning Commission also wanted him to go to Columbia to get the Soil and Water department to tell them that he was not doing any improvements to the outside of the building. In addition, he had to get his architect to survey his property at his expense to draw his boundary lines, note where the sewer system is, in addition to his driveway since the county did not have this.

He came to the planning commission office April 1st, 2011 and asked them what they needed, but they said they would get up with him later. Then on Friday, May 6th, they came out and wrote him some citations with a list of required actions. He said he told them he would comply.

The next Monday they came out, wrote him a ticket, and told him he was shut down and turned off his power.

Thereafter Thomas hired an attorney to work with the county on what they want done.

“I know of other businesses, or people in York County that are trying to start businesses and are running into this same problem. If you ask me, the county employees or county employee are supposed to be a help to get a business started in York County. And if you’ve already got one here, at least help you maintain that business. Instead, it’s more like a, ‘you made us mad, we don’t want to deal with you, we don’t like you, we’re going to shut you down, and there’s nothing you can do about it, cause we are the commissioners, we are the county employees, I’m the inspector, I can do what I please, you have no say-so in the matter.’ That’s why I’m stressing this right now. I’m probably gonna tick these people off, if me showing up today, showing y’all those drawings and showing you how simple this project really is, I mean, I’ve worked construction for 25 years. And those drawings are nothing compared with some of the stuff we’ve done. Nothing.” He then proceeded to run down a short list of what he needed to install in his building after it was gutted- an HVAC system, a light strip, a bathroom with a sink, toilet and urinal.

“There’s always one more person that has to okay it or one more thing that has to be done. But it’s nine, going on 10 months to get this done.” He exclaimed.

Thomas also said after they had gutted the building he wanted to replace the wooden trusses that had termite damage but the planning commission would not let anyone into the building. He said he was told, “We don’t want any work done because there’s no one in there.”

Thomas said after he started doing other things like contacting the council and hiring an attorney, the process moved a bit faster, but still dragged on. This is what is wrong with the micromanagement of private property by government. Most zoning laws and bureaucracies are not able to move swiftly nor are they very service-oriented. Privatization and reduced regulation would go a long way in solving this problem.

Carol W. LaGrasse sums it up quite well in her speech at the PRFA National Conference on Private Property Rights, on October 18, 2008:

“When I think of zoning and building codes, I reflect that it is only natural that corruption and influence creep in and infest the implementation of such elite, impractical, pervasive laws. The corrupt exploitation of building and zoning laws is opportunistic, whether it is NIMBY (not in my back yard) groups obstructing the rights of neighboring property owners or city officials using the building permit system to extort exorbitant fees that make up for deficiencies of real estate tax receipts.”

The York County Council seemed very concerned with Mr. Thomas’s complaint but they were reluctant, (as they should be) to make any judgment upon hearing one side.

I’ve recently publicly expressed in another newspaper that good county employees probably do need a merit raise this year. That is, if indeed the budget is at a surplus with plenty of money left for emergencies, lean times, and infrastructure support. You notice I have a lot of if, ands, or buts. As with any private business or organization, you want happy employees, they should be compensated if they are doing a good job, the organization is run well, and the price point meets consumer approval. This type of arrogance, however if true, should not be tolerated.

Unfortunately, there is no shortage of absurd governmental regulatory atrocities, but there are people out there doing something about them. Please visit my favorite charitable organization, the Institute for Justice at http://www.ij.org/ to hear about all of their great work.

Jen is chair of the York County Libertarian Party. For more information, go to: www. yclp.org

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