Jan. 22—Problems with snow removal in the county parking lot located southwest of the Jasper County Courthouse are making officials reevaluate their policies with the lot, which is normally reserved for employees or courts workers but is oftentimes used as public parking for business owners or retail shoppers.
Jasper County Maintenance Director Adam Sparks is open to any solutions.
"I'm just trying to come up with a policy for us if we're going to keep it a county parking lot and control who parks in there, or come up with another solution that's maybe not a county parking lot and let it be free will to whoever wants to come and have somebody else maintain it," Sparks said.
The maintenance crews want to keep all of Jasper County's properties clear of snow during the winter months. But Sparks said the county cannot control all of the cars that are coming in and out of the parking lot, which now has fewer county employees using it.
Upon the construction of the new county administration building, many of the county employees have moved out of the courthouse. Sparks said even state workers and other visitors conducting business at the courthouse have found city lots to park in or are parking around the town square.
"Almost every vehicle that is in that lot has nothing to do with the county," he said. "So if it's a county lot, in my opinion, I think we need to set policy. There are signs down there. There have been signs down there forever that say 'Employees only, do not park, vehicle will be towed.' We've never done it."
Another problem maintenance crews come across is the lot is also home to the elections equipment garage. During election season, staff need to be able to get a panel truck in there, load the machines and get out. When there are random cars parked in the lot, Sparks said it can get in the way of their work.
Policing the parking lot is an option. Staff would have to frequently visit the lot and see if there are any unauthorized vehicles parked and then call a towing company. Sparks said it is not a hard thing to do but it is going to be irritating to people, even though signs clearly state their vehicle will be towed.
Although Jasper County Supervisor Brandon Talsma does not mind the public using the lot on occasion, he agreed it has caused some problems in the past. For instance, the county had to pay vehicle damages when a resident's car was struck by a snow plow when the county was trying to clear the lot.
"It seems like the main issue is the snow, and I say that's what we go after is changing the signs that are there and amending our policy to state something along the lines of: 'When the City of Newton snow ordinance is in effect, there's no parking allowed there,'" Talsma said, noting violators would get towed.
Sparks asked if the signs instead specified months out of the year or a timeframe instead of mentioning the snow ordinance. The maintenance director wanted to close any loophole excuses from vehicle owners that might say they parked in the lot before it snowed.
Jasper County Supervisor Denny Stevenson said the winter timeframe could cause more hassles for the person enforcing the signs and policy. Stevenson was in favor of sign language mentioning snow. But he said no matter what route the county takes, staff are going to have to enforce the policy.
Which could mean more cars being towed from the county lot. Jasper County Supervisor Doug Cupples encouraged Sparks to start calling the towing company after a certain time during snow days.
Before supervisors make a final decision and create a new sign explaining the rules, Stevenson suggested the county attorney get involved and look it over.