City owed $92K for property upkeep
by Hilary Butschek
August 31, 2014 04:00 AM | 3159 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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MARIETTA — Councilman Philip Goldstein suggested this week the city foreclose on properties that haven’t paid the city for mowing their lawns.

Mayor Steve Tumlin agreed with Goldstein, saying there is often no other way to get the money the city is owed, which now totals $92,000.

“Only when the property is sold do we really get something back,” Tumlin said.

Yet, Councilwoman Michelle Cooper Kelly said she didn’t want to make a rash decision at the Wednesday meeting, so the committee took no action on the issue.

“I’d like a little bit more time, personally, to review it,” Kelly said.

City attorney Doug Haynie said the chances of collecting the money soon are slim, and the threshold for foreclosing on a property is usually if $10,000 is owed to the city.

The money is made up of fees the city charges property owners to remove “obnoxious vegetation.”

If a property owner doesn’t cut the grass, members of the city’s code enforcement office, which has seven employees, will mow it themselves, then ask to be paid for their labor.

The code enforcement department has filed 16 liens against property owners who owe the city money so far this year. It filed 17 liens in 2013. There are six property owners who owe more than $2,000.

There are two properties who owe more than $10,000: one owned by Westside Partners on Sandtown Road and another owned by Cynthia Lannette Hull and Robert A. Glover on Rigby Street.

This might be the only way the city can collect the money it is owed, Goldstein said.

Tumlin agreed with Goldstein, saying the city often has trouble collecting from property owners unless the property is sold or foreclosed.

“We don’t have a really high expectation (of getting paid) when we cut somebody’s grass,” Tumlin said.

Haynie said sometimes the city never recovers the money because the fees are wiped out if the property owner goes through a bankruptcy.

“Also, liens fall off after seven years (if they’re not paid),” Haynie said.

Goldstein said foreclosing on properties will prevent future issues.

“The other advantage of doing a foreclosure is it deals with a piece of property that is a drag on the neighborhood,” Goldstein said.

The committee members agreed to talk about foreclosing on properties at their next meeting Sept. 23.

Donna Fritz, senior housing inspector in the code enforcement department, said city employees won’t threaten to cut the grass unless it’s 12 inches or taller.

Obnoxious vegetation can include kudzu, briars, weeds and grass, according to the city code. Code enforcement workers can also clean up a property if it is littered with wastepaper, leaves, debris or trash.

Fritz said her department goes through a process of notifying a property owner of code violations.

“We try everything in the world to get compliance from the owner,” Fritz said.

First, an inspector will put a sign on the door of a building on the property and mail a notice asking the owner and tenant to cut the grass.

If the owner does not comply in eight days, the city files paperwork in the city municipal court asking a judge to determine whether the city can go on the property and clean it up.

“If the judge finds all the evidence to be in favor of our case then he signs an order stating the city can go on the property to clean it up,” Fritz said.

The city waits five days after the court order is signed and then sends workers to the property to use city equipment such as weed eaters, mowers, chain saws or tractors to clean up the land.

“Then for the cost incurred after the city cleans it up, they’re mailed a bill from city clerk’s office,” Fritz said.

If the owner doesn’t pay within 30 days, Fritz said the city files a lien on the property through the county, which allows the city to hold possession of the land until the money is paid.

Fritz said the cost of the work is determined by the number of people and pieces of equipment used in the cleanup.

“For example, one property totaled $149.36 which included four employees and the use of one Grasshopper (mower), two weed eaters and one blower,” Fritz said.

Fritz said costs range from $100 to in the thousands. The highest amount owed to the city for cleanup is $10,000.

“Some of the lots might be a townhome or smaller properties, but if you’ve got a larger property, like I’ve had some commercial lots be in the thousands,” Fritz said.

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