A sweeping effort to clean up the town
by Sherrie Williams
In an effort to clean up the community, cutting down on unsightly as well as unhealthy debris and vegetation, City of Iowa Park code enforcement has recently targeted almost 100 of the top offenders.
In the past when weed/debris letters were sent to property owners they had 10 days to address the problem and if it wasn’t taken care of the city crews did the work and the property owners were billed. If the bill wasn’t paid within a certain time limit liens were placed on the property.
Over the years the city saw many repeat offenders and the liens continued to grow. However, there was additional cost to file liens and unless the property sold the city seldom collected the fees owed them.
Also, because of the low fees charged, some property owners seemed to use the city as their lawn service.
In addition to the vegetation problem several structures throughout the city sat neglected and the problem was growing. Some property owners were sent letters to secure the property within 10 days or appear before the city council for a substandard structure hearing.
By state law the city council is required to give property owners of substandard structures a minimum of 45 days to abate the issue or the city crews would. The city would then place a lien on the property for service fees.
Earlier in the year Iowa Park city council members told city staff they wanted to see the city cleaned up, expressing health and safety concerns as well as appearance.
A special code enforcement council meeting was held and after council members heard the many issues as well as responsibilities the one code enforcement officer’s position required they began to discuss ways to enhance code enforcement.
Manpower was one of the biggest issues.
According to City Manager Jerry Flemming, employees from other departments began helping the code enforcement officer tackle the many violations throughout the community.
The fees have been increased when the city crews clean up the property and in addition to liens placed against the property, owners are sent court summons.
The focus started with the top worse 100 properties.
According to Flemming they have sent somewhere between 60 and 100 letters to date and more are sent daily.
When property owners don’t respond to the letters they are sent a court summons. Appearances before the municipal judge has resulted in several property owners receiving fines of up to $400 for weed/debris violations.
This month an extra municipal court day has been set up just to handle code violations.
“Before property owners appear in court staff has often been dealing with the situation for weeks or longer,” said Flemming. “We have a lot of people who take care of their property and we should be respectful of them. It is part of living in a city. Our property doesn’t only affect us it affects those around us.”
Iowa Park Economic Development Director David Owen said when working to bring in additional businesses or residents property appearance plays a huge role in the ability to do that.
“I am behind this 110 percent. We absolutely have to take pride in our community before we can sell to potential businesses or residents. If we don’t how do we sell,” said Owen. “ I understand the city council needs ability to work with the residents and business owners, but never the less still push forward to be a cleaner city.”
Flemming said the fines is not a fundraiser it is for the purpose of getting property owners to take care of the issues.
“Every day a property is not in compliance the owner could receive a citation,” he said. ”We need people to take ordinances and court seriously. We are not talking about a few blades of grass being high.”
Flemming said the city tries to work with people and he hopes neighbors help their neighbors.
“This is important to all of us. Staff and council members also has property to take care of. It’s been a tough year with vegetation growth and you just have to stay on top of it.”
Mayor Ray Schultz said he appreciates those who try and help others and it makes him proud to see efforts throughout the city.
“I love our community. The way it comes together to help out. It makes me feel proud to live in Iowa Park when you see people willing to give up their time to help others. Such as those who gave up their Saturday to help clean at Highland Cemetery. In the past we have had citizens volunteer their time to clean up different areas of the city. This shows how lucky we are to have great citizens living here. It makes me proud to live in Iowa Park,” said Shultz.
He went on to say he and the council support the staff in their efforts to get people to take care of their property.
“There have been a lot of letters sent out in regards to citizens needing to clean their property. Some for weeds or tall grass, junk items, and substandard structures. These issues are not just a beautification effort to help the city attract new residents and businesses, but it is a health concern. When you have over grown yards, structures that are not secure or are unsound and could collapse, items in your yards that could create a nesting place for rats, mice, or any rodents it is a health issue not only for the property owner, but their neighbors as well. This is why the city is sending out letters. Not only for beauty, but to keep us from harm,” said Schultz.
Flemming said the city does not have unlimited resources and we all are the “city.”
“We are all the city, share holders in the community and it requires everyone’s effort.”
Flemming also explained grass/weed and debris issues are handled differently than substandard structures.
Substandard structure hearings are taken before the city council while grass/weed, debris is handled by staff and municipal court.
Monday the agenda for the city council meeting has 11 hearings for substandard structures.
The City Code of Ordidances can be found on the city website at iowapark.com.
Some of the ordinances Flemming pointed out include:
Sec. 6.01.002 - Responsibility of adjacent property owner for vegetation on public way.
“It shall be unlawful for both the owner and the tenant of any property in the city abutting upon a street, alley or other public way to permit any weeds, grasses, or other vegetation whatsoever to grow anywhere therein to the centerline to a height of greater than five (5) inches. (2004 Code, art. 6.04)”
Sec. 6.02.012 Maintenance of vacant property; cleaning of property by city:
(a) It shall be the duty of every nonresident owner of a vacant lot or other vacant property to appoint, in writing, to the city, a resident agent who shall have responsibility for keeping that lot or other property free of litter.
(b) If, after due warning, citation or summons, an owner, agent, occupant or lessee fails to remove litter from any private property, the city is authorized to serve written notice to the owner or his appointed agent that, if the condition is not corrected within ten (10) days, the property will be cleaned by the city and the owner or his appointed agent billed for the cost thereof. If the bill is not paid within thirty (30) days, execution may be issued by the city against the property for the amount of the cleaning charge, and such execution shall constitute a lien on the property until the claim has been satisfied.
ARTICLE 6.03 WEEDS, RUBBISH OR OTHER OBJECTIONABLE MATTER ON PRIVATE PROPERTY*
Sec. 6.03.001 - Places where water may accumulate - It shall be unlawful for any person who shall own or occupy any lot in the city to permit or allow holes or places on said lots where water may accumulate and become stagnant, or to permit same to remain. (2004 Code, sec. 6.05.001)
Sec. 6.03.002 Stagnant water -
It shall be unlawful for any person who shall own or occupy any lot in the city to permit or allow the accumulation of stagnant water thereon, or to permit same to remain. (2004 Code, sec. 6.05.002)
Sec. 6.03.003 Carrion, filth or other unwholesome matter
It shall be unlawful for any person who shall own or occupy any house, building, establishment, lot or yard in the city to permit or allow any carrion, filth or other impure or unwholesome matter to accumulate or remain thereon. (2004 Code, sec. 6.05.003)
Sec. 6.03.004 Weeds, rubbish, brush or other objectionable matter
It shall be unlawful for any person who shall own or occupy any lot in the city to allow weeds, rubbish, brush or any other unsightly, objectionable or insanitary matter to accumulate or grow on said lot. (2004 Code, sec. 6.05.004)
Sec. 6.03.005 Notice of violation
Methods for notification:
(1) In person;
(2) By United States mail;
(3) By publication at least twice within ten (10) consecutive days;
(4) By posting notice on or near a building near the property to which the violation relates;
(5) By posting notice on a placard attached to a stake driven into the ground on the property to which the violation relates, if the property contains no buildings.
(2004 Code, sec. 6.05.005)
Sec. 6.03.006 Immediate abatement of dangerous weeds
The city may immediately abate the nuisances of weeds in excess of forty-eight (48) inches in height which are an immediate danger to the health, life or safety of any person. (2004 Code, sec. 6.05.006)
State law reference–Additional authority to abate dangerous weeds without notice, V.T.C.A., Health and Safety Code, sec. 342.008.
Sec. 6.03.007 Subsequent violations within one year - Upon giving written notice to a property owner in violation of the city health ordinances, the city may inform the property owner by certified mail that, if the owner commits another violation of the same kind or nature on or before the first anniversary of the date of the notice, the city may without further notice correct the violation at the owner’s expense and assess the expense against the property. (2004 Code, sec. 6.05.007)
Sec. 6.03.008 Abatement procedure - In the event any person fails to comply with any of the requirements set forth in sections 6.03.001, 6.03.002, 6.03.003 and/or 6.03.004 within the time limits specified in section 342.006 of the Texas Health and Safety Code (as it may be amended from time to time), the city may do the work required to abate such condition(s), pay for the work required to abate such condition(s) or take such other action as may be permitted by applicable law following notice by the city to such person in accordance with said statute. Thereafter, the city may assess its expenses against such property and obtain a lien against such property in accordance with section 342.007 of the Texas Health and Safety Code (as it may be amended from time to time). (2004 Code, sec. 6.05.008)