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Enforcing of 2014 code raises concern

Melinda Williams/SWT Responsibility of maintenance of vegetation on the town of Pulaski’s right of way, such as this strip along Route 99, was a topic of conversation at town council’s recent meeting. A 2014 town ordinance says the job rests with individual property owners, but town crews have always done the work.

By MELINDA WILLIAMS

melinda@southwesttimes.com

A Pulaski councilman is calling for changes to a town property maintenance code now that it’s being enforced for the first time since its enactment in 2014.

At issue is who should mow the town’s right of way in the business district. A 2014 ordinance places the responsibility with individual property owners, but Councilman Jamie Radcliffe says town crews should continue to mow it as they always have.

“If you don’t think [it isn’t the town’s property], put a political sign there and watch it get gone or park you a car right there and watch it get towed,” Radcliffe said during a recent council meeting. “We’re telling [property owners] we don’t need to mow that because of this policy that we accepted.”

The issue came to light when grass and weeds on the street side of sidewalks, particularly on Route 99, started growing out of control.

Town Manager Darlene Burcham said she noticed town crews mowing there in the fall and notified them to stop mowing the property this spring when she checked the town code. Everywhere she has worked and lived it has always been the responsibility of individual property owners, not the municipality, she added.

Burcham said she published a notice in the newspaper and on the town’s Facebook page this spring informing property owners they are responsible for mowing to the street curb. She noted some have complied and others haven’t.

Radcliffe assured Burcham she did the right thing by enforcing a code that wasn’t being enforced. However, he asked council members to consider amending the code to have town crews maintain vegetation between sidewalks and the curb.

Radcliffe presented town council with an array of photographs of areas where vegetation is growing unchecked. His photographs included poison oak growing in the area around trees planted inside the sidewalks in downtown Pulaski.

Burcham said town crews are responsible for the tree beds in downtown and she has clarified that with them.

Radcliffe pointed out some of the areas covered by his photograph are along “main drives coming into town. He said it should be unacceptable for everyone on council to have property on the town’s right of way in that condition.

He called for council to look into rewording the code to return responsibility to the town, but in the meantime authorize town crews to do the work and “spruce this place up a little bit.”

Burcham reminded council town maintenance crews are “very shorthanded.” She said they are doing the best they can to keep up with mowing, but “We’re not even mowing town-owned properties — irrespective of this issue — as frequently as we should.”

The new town manager said she believes in maximizing town resources. “This isn’t a good use of town resources, particularly if they’re limited,” she told council.

Radcliffe agreed it may not be a good use of town resources. However, he added, “It’s also crappy looking. If I was a business coming in here and the first thing you see is grass up to your knees, I’d turn around and leave, too. That is the town’s property.”

Radcliffe said it wouldn’t take any more time to ride by the areas in question on a town truck than it does to drop a mower and trim around the poles.

Councilman Greg East said he sees both sides of the issue and “could come down on either side” in a vote. But he pointed out the town is, for the first time, “actually operating closely to what our ordinances are.

“That’s a good place to be. However this one ends up shaking out it’s a good thing because that means we’re tightening up our policy. Obviously this has been in effect since 2014, so we weren’t even reading our own policies. I think it’s been like that for many years prior to [Burcham] coming in and looking at what we’re doing.”

East called for placing a notice on the change of responsibility in town water bills. He says he thinks most property owners will comply with the ordinance, as is, if they know to start mowing to the curb.

Councilman Michael Reis agreed with Radcliffe the unkempt strips of property are “unsightly” and that mowing one strip along an individual property might not take long. However, “it’s a whole day” if they have to mow and trim 40 of those strips, he added.

Reis said the only way the town is going to “get back into fiscal health” is to not pay crews to do work that isn’t the town’s responsibility.

Town Engineer Bill Pedigo pointed out one of the properties along Route 99 [with an absentee owner] has been mowed at least once this year. While the company that mowed it could have easily included the strip of grass between the sidewalk and curb, “they probably didn’t because they have never done it before.” Yet, he said, it’s still in violation of town code.

Council authorized crews to mow the property until a decision is made on what to do with the ordinance.

Burcham suggested if council decides to amend the ordinance that the maximum grass height be reduced from 12 to nine inches. “We can’t cite someone until it gets to be that 12 inches. Then we have to allow 10 days once the notice is put out … so with sunshine and a little bit of water 12 inches becomes pretty high by the time we can either cut, if it’s vacant property, or cite the person to go to court,” she said.

The maximum height applies to lawns in town, as well as the strips of property along sidewalks, according to Burcham.

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