Council OK’s new mowing ordinance
Economic development dominated Tuesday’s Clinton City Council meeting, but it wasn’t just the announcement that the city had hired its first fulltime economic developer.
Visitors heard quite a bit about Roland Mower, alright. He’s the new developer who will be coming here from San Antonio, Texas, to begin his duties Jan. 2, 2019.
But they also heard a lot about weeds. Yes, weeds. And not the medical marijuana type that are now legal in Oklahoma.
Mayor David Berrong said city leaders began thinking about an economic developer a year and a half ago and it’s good to now have a top-notch professional on board. But he added, after the council also passed a new weed control ordinance, that for Clinton, economic development must have a two-pronged approach.
Just as important as the new developer, is how the city looks, he said, adding: “Landscaping is important too. Our community cannot be allowed to look like we’re suffering. This is an economic issue too; we cannot fail.”
The landscaping ordinance which passed by a 4-0 vote appears to put some teeth into the city’s regulations concerning how property looks. In brief, it cuts in half the height at which weeds and grass are allowed to grow before property owners may be called to task, and it cuts in half the time they’ll be given to do something about the situation.
Before Tuesday night, the height limit was 12 inches. Now it’s 6. And the time limit to get unruly yards and open spaces mowed was 10 days after being contacted by City Inspector Toby Anders. It’s now 5.
Councilman Don Rodolph made the motion to adopt Ordinance 992 setting the new limits, and Chuy Rosales seconded. Mayor Berrong voted with them, as did Jason Hulin. Bobby Stewart, the fifth councilman, was not present.
City Manager Mark Skiles was skeptical things would suddenly change.
“Will this ordinance cure the problem?” he asked. “No, it goes back to pride.”
Before the ordinance was voted on, City Inspector Toby Anders was asked to explain the costs associated with an abatement hearing which can be called if property isn’t maintained properly. He said typically it could end up costing property owners $650, or more.
He began by saying notices are sent by certified mail which will cost about $6. Then notice of a public hearing is published in the Clinton Daily News, which will cost approximately $75. Next, a private contractor may be contacted and asked to mow the yard. But by the time he can get around to it, 30 days may have passed.
“Meantime, it’s growing,” said Anders, so that initial mowing – because of the height of the weeds and grass – is typically around $150. Before the end of the summer, another five or so mowings may be required. But because not as much time has passed, the cost of a single mowing after the first one might be down to $75. Still, for the six mowings, including the first one, Anders estimated the total cost could be $600. Which, with the pre-mowing costs, could be nearly $700.
Councilman Rodolph wanted to know how many abatements the city has going now. Anders said only one, but 12 pieces of property are involved. He said he had one earlier that involved four properties and there will likely be six coming before the council in the next 60 days.
“Once someone receives a notice, do they respond?” asked Mayor Berrong. Anders said he sometimes gets a phone call, and if so, he’ll work with the people.
“Out of 10 letters, how many call back?” asked Berrong.
“Maybe two,” replied Anders. He said other people may not call him but implied that some will go ahead and take care of the problem.
“Do you go back and see if there’s movement as a result of your letter?” asked Berrong.
“Yes,” replied Anders.
“When does the city go on the property?” asked the mayor.
“When we have an abatement hearing,” said Anders, adding that the owner may show up at the hearing. If not, he said the city manager likely will tell him to have it cleaned up.
“Currently we’re mowing eight,” he said, then corrected himself to say that a contractor is mowing eight. He said the city does not have manpower to mow yards itself.
“How do they pay?” asked Berrong.
“I’ll send them a fee at the end of the season,” said Anders.
Even then, he said the collection rate is not very good.
“When do you file a lien on the property?” asked Rodolph.
City Attorney Ryan Meacham answered that one. “We have no ability to foreclose,” he said. “We have to wait for the county. If they get all theirs, we get all ours. If they get half of theirs, we get half of ours.”
“We’re dealing with the same people over and over,” said Councilman Hulin.
“It may be the same property but a different owner,” said Anders.
“Responsible people mow their yards,” said Skiles. But he added that even though the city is in a position to police and enforce the law, it can’t do things in a heavy-handed manner.
After the council voted for the new ordinance, it acted to close streets for the Clinton High School homecoming parade on Sept. 21 and for the Clinton Indian Health Center monster dash 5K fun run and walk on Oct. 13. Berrong also announced that former councilman Mustafa Sami, who had requested a spot on the agenda, had called and said he wouldn’t be able to make it.
Following that, Skiles and Berrong had a few closing remarks about the weeds and mowing.
“My staff and I are concerned,” said the city manager. “We’ve gone from a mowing crew of six to one.”
He said he’s hired three contractors but they have to fit the city in when they can get to it. “They’re not going to leave their regular customer base,” he said.
“They do a good job but they’re limited,” he continued, and this year with all the rain, things just aren’t going to get caught up. “I’m glad we’ve got the problem, though. “Rain in western Oklahoma is a great thing.”
Hulin asked if the city has plans to hire anyone else. Skiles said the city already has a deficit budget of $400,000.
“It’s not a limitless fund,” he added, “and you’re going to spend more on fulltime employees than part-time.”
Then he added, “I think lowering the height from 12 to 6 inches was the most beneficial thing the council did tonight.”
Berrong had the last say. “There’s nothing that citizens discuss and don’t like that hasn’t been discussed by the city,” he said. “This is an economic issue. We can’t fail.”
He then thanked the Economic Committee “for bringing us a professional developer.”
That man, Roland Mower, had been hired earlier in the day at a noontime meeting of the Clinton Economic Development Authority and apparently had already left town by the time of the council meeting, so he couldn’t be introduced in person.