The town of Locke has taken Amish families into county court over violations of a junkyard ordinance, a mobile home law and building permit requirements.
Amish contractors haven’t been able to work for non-Amish customers because Locke requires insurance the Amish builders refuse to buy.
The town took to court one Amish couple, Erwin and Melinda Hostetler, for altering a building without a permit, for using mobile homes (which house chickens) without a permit and for keeping junk and trash around their house. Locke doesn’t allow agricultural use of mobile homes.
Erwin Hostetler, 50, moved from southern Pennsylvania five years ago. He said he is improving his 47-acre homestead and working as hard as he can. He has no grown children, no sons.
Sitting at a kitchen table inside a bright, woodstove-warm kitchen, he lit a small Phillies cigar and said he needs to cut back his operation.
He raises sheep, goats, chickens, horses, pigs, and puggles, a pug-beagle mix. He builds furniture and has a greenhouse that jumpstarts the family’s big garden. As he speaks, his wife Melinda, cores peppers at the sink. His 4-year-old daughter, Emma, speaks to a puppy in German.
Locke’s requirement of a mobile home permit for his chicken trailer is something he didn’t face in Pennsylvania, he says.
After receiving his first junkyard notice from the code enforcement officer, he said, he called the officer several times to ask what to move to put his property into compliance. He got no reply.
Other Amish say they are irked by the way the town notifies them about violations—mailing orders or serving court summons. Amish prefer face-to-face discussion of issues, they say.
The lengthy article focused on the town of Locke’s building permit requirement that all contractors have liability insurance. The common understanding being that state law requires it. Amish builders do not participate in insurance of any kind. It is against their religious beliefs. So the town and the Amish (and the people in the town who want to hire the Amish) are at odds.
But the Syracuse newspaper did something remarkable and commendable. They actually researched the law requiring liability insurance. What they discovered was something of a bombshell:
It turns out that Locke’s insistence on liability insurance has no legal basis, the Post Standard’s research found. No state law requires liability insurance for contractors, and Locke does not have a town law requiring it.
This is how the town’s attorney responded to the news:
“The bad news is we don’t have the legal authority to do what we’ve been doing,” acknowledged Andrew Fusco, town attorney. “If we want to require liability insurance, we’re going to have to pass a local law that authorizes it.”
The town has called a special meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday to address liability insurance.
The article concluded with a quote from the Amish group’s leader saying that they did not want to leave the area, but if they continued to have problems the families would have to leave.
Pastor Weed explained that the Amish will not defend themselves in court. They would just leave the area, and he expressed strong concern about how the Amish were being treated. Then he said something that no one expected. He said he would not be in church for Wednesday evening Bible study because he was going to the special meeting. And, more than that, he said he intended to hire, and personally pay, for an attorney to defend the Amish if it proved necessary.
Them's was fightin’ words based on righteous indignation. I decided then and there that I would also be at the meeting on Wednesday.
(to be continued....)
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