Records show illegal fires in Paxton most likely result in warnings

Records show illegal fires in Paxton most likely result in warnings

PAXTON — Residents who ignore the city's recently implemented leaf-burning ban can face fines ranging from $50 to $200, but they likely would get a verbal warning first.

In the recent past, illegal fires in Paxton rarely have led to legal action being taken, according to an analysis of data obtained from the Paxton Police Department through a Freedom of Information Act request.

So rarely, in fact, that out of the 89 complaints of illegal burning that Paxton police have received in the past five years, only once has anyone been issued a notice to appear in Ford County Circuit Court.

"It's not like we don't try to be lenient," police Chief Coy Cornett acknowledged.

The city council on July 10 added leaves to the list of what is illegal to burn in city limits, which also includes "any rubbish, garbage, paper or other combustible material." The leaf-burning ban was effective immediately.

To demonstrate the enforcement policies of the police department related to illegal burning, the Ford County Record last week obtained from the department a log of the dates and addresses for every complaint of an illegal fire between Jan. 1, 2013, and July 18, 2018. The Record also obtained a list of all notices to appear in court issued in that same time frame.

The log showed 89 complaints of illegal burning, including 12 in 2013, 18 in 2014, 13 in 2015, 20 in 2016, 14 in 2017 and 12 through the first 6 1/2 months of 2018.

Two streets — State and Patton — had the most complaints, with 13 each in that time frame, followed by Orleans Street with eight.

Four properties were identified as having more than one complaint, but there could have been more, too, as some complaints had no specific address attached to them, with only the block number listed.

The property with the most complaints — at least six — was 443 W. State St. At least one complaint about illegal burning on that property has been received each year since 2013, with the exception of 2017. The property has already had two complaints made against it in 2018, and a notice to appear in court was issued for the property's last alleged burning violation on May 29 — making it the only burning-related notice to appear issued by Paxton police in the past five years.

Cornett said the data demonstrates his agency's stance on how to address complaints of illegal burning, noting that violators are usually given a warning before being taken to court.

He said residents can expect the same treatment when it comes to the illegal burning of leaves, too.

"If we receive a call, we're going to investigate it just like we would any other call," Cornett said. "If we find that leaves are being burned, we would ask them to put out the fire, and if they refuse to put it out at that time, a citation will be issued. And if we get repeat calls at the same location, citations could potentially be issued, too."

A first violation of the burning ordinance can result in a $50 fine, with a $200 fine for each subsequent offense. If an illegal fire continues beyond one day, each additional day constitutes a separate violation.

"The rules are pretty simple: You can't burn leaves," Cornett said. "So don't burn leaves."

Will Brumleve is editor of the Ford County Record, a News-Gazette Media community newspaper. For more, visit fordcountyrecord.com.

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