A local community is utilizing a full-time code and zoning enforcement inspector to work in correcting nuisance properties.
Zach Ricker started his position for the city of Farmington on May 14. Since coming on board, he’s been busy following up on nuisance/code violations reported on the city’s citizen action line.
“For our citizens – on our website – there’s a link to action line requests,” Tim Porter, director of Development Services, said. “Among lots of different requests you can make, [a citizen] can ask for abatement of a nuisance. We get a lot of request through the internet.”
Porter said during the heart of the growing season, with a lot of rain and sunshine, the request are higher than average.
“Right now, we are getting an average per week of anywhere from five to 10 during a normal period,” he said. “At the first of the [growing season], that’s when it gets really busy because you’ll have some property that probably needed mowed at the end of last growing season – so it might have died off a little bit then it spruced back and is ahead of everything else.”
Part of Ricker’s position includes issuing citations to identified property owners of nuisance property – those yards with grass measuring higher than seven inches.
After the warning is issued, the property owners are given 10 days to correct the nuisance. If not abated on the next business day after the 10-day period, Ricker works with the Farmington Police Department to issue a summons.
Retired police officer Dan Duncan, before his death earlier this spring, worked in a part-time role in this position beginning in 2014.
“Until Don took this position in 2014, this was a function of the police department,” Porter said. “In fact, the ordinance still states that it is. But, the chief is allowed to designate someone.”
Ricker has the authority to ask for an officer to come to the property and request a summons be issued to those property owners receiving more than one warning during a growing season.
“That’s our position on that,” Porter said. “If we keep giving 10-day warnings … our ordinance allows us to do so.”
Porter acknowledged there is flexibility to work with those who have not been able to upkeep the property due to equipment malfunction.
“[Ricker] is very flexible in that he’ll give you a day or two extra or – at the very least – sometimes, we might be able to help you find some services if you are not able to afford it,” Porter said. “We don’t have the authority to go mow folks’ grass. We can’t do something on private property, unless it’s something specific like an abandoned house.
“Other than that, we have to have an administrative search warrant to get on property.”
Porter said the offices of Public Works receive phone calls and walk-in requests, along with city employees who are out in the field.
“They are our eyes and ears,” Porter said. “What we really need our public to do is help us identify the properties.”
Only in the case of abandoned homes does the city take steps to fixing the problem when necessary.
“In a growing season, we have a group of contracted vendor mowers that will, eventually, pretty quick, take up those yards,” Porter said, noting those services are only used for abandoned homes and the city can assess the cost incurred on a special tax bill put on the property.
“So, ultimately, the city has a way to recoup the taxpayers’ money,” he said. “And, yet, we can get it done and improve the appearance of the yard.”
Ricker’s role will encompass not only the nuisance abatement, but will eventually handle all the property code maintenance regarding dangerous buildings as well as instances of minor zoning violations.
Porter said it is not uncommon for the same properties to be subject to nuisance violations each year. And, for Ricker, he’s found he doesn’t have to drive very far in one direction to find properties either in violation – or close to a violation – of another ordinance.
“When he’s there to investigate, he may find a derelict vehicle,” Porter said.
Porter said residents also need to be aware of the derelict vehicle ordinance as well.
“Occasionally we’ll get the call that someone says ‘look. I’ve got my car at my house. The engine blew up. I’m a shade tree mechanic and I can fix it myself, but I’m not going to be able to do it in 10 days,’” Porter said. “We’ll work with someone if they have a vehicle they are trying to repair – we’ll work with them within reason. Zach will just ask to let him see that progress.”
When mowing, Porter said it’s important to remember not to blow grass clippings out into the city’s streets.
“One of the things you are responsible when you are a homeowner or a renter and you’re mowing your grass is to not blow your lawn clippings and leaves out into the street,” Porter said, noting the clippings cause back-ups in the storm water system and cause problems with the city’s street sweeper as well.
Grass clippings also pose a hazard for motorcyclists and bicyclists as well.
The compliance rate for correcting nuisance properties is around 90 percent, the two said.
“Everybody has busy lives – we understand that,” Porter said. “We don’t expect everyone to have a ‘Better Homes and Gardens’ yard. [Just ask citizens to] have it mowed. Have your weeds knocked down. Keep your derelict cars, keep your rubbish [out of the yard].”
Shawnna Robinson is the managing editor of the Farmington Press and can be reached at 573-518-3628 or firstname.lastname@example.org