Are long lawns a sign of the times in Janesville?

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Wednesday, July 1, 2009
— Are you noticing more unkempt lots around the city?

It’s not your imagination.

The city is fielding more complaints from residents about their neighbors.

Long grass and feet-high thistles in the middle of neat, residential areas are one more indicator of the struggling economy. Vacant lots also are increasingly messy.

“We saw it already this past winter with snow-covered sidewalks,” John Whitcomb, operations director, said.

“I don’t think the economic situation discriminates,” he said. “It’s hitting all sectors, maybe not equally, but I think all walks of life have been impacted.”

Whitcomb said the complaints are coming in from all over the city.

Lindsay Motl, environmental technician, said the city has received a “significantly higher” number of complaints this season: 220 complaints so far compared to 165 last year.

The majority are vacant lots, she said.

The city has cut about 30 properties this year compared to about 25 lots last year at this time.

Last year, the city received a total of 442 complaints for the season. Of those 442, city workers or contractors cut 110.

“We understand we have to do it and why we have to do it. And we’re doing more of it,” Whitcomb said.

After receiving a complaint, staff inspects the property to determine if it meets the foot-high criteria set by ordinance. Then, the owner gets a letter.

In some cases, the owners are long gone and the homes are vacant. Possibly, the home is in foreclosure and is owned by a bank or other commercial entity, Whitcomb said.

The city must locate the owner, sometimes in different cities or states.

After seven days, the city again inspects the property, after which the grass is cut.

Many owners make arrangements to cut their grass once they receive letters.

“It’s a long process from start to finish,” Motl said.

The city gives the offender only one warning a season. If a second complaint is filed, staff simply shows up to clean up the site.

Past offenders get one warning at the beginning of the next season.

“Typically, we haven’t had problems once we do things like that,” Motl said.

The city charges a minimum of $124 to cut the grass, and that pays for one worker and one piece of equipment. The bill goes up from there.

If someone doesn’t pay the bill, the city puts a lien on the property.

The city doesn’t like to cut residential grass, Whitcomb said.

“It’s not our primary business. It takes away from other maintenance jobs on city property.”

“It’s a major function out there now,” Motl said.

“We recently have tried to work with a contractor because we’ve had so (many complaints) we can’t even keep up.

“It’s not just 12 inches anymore.

“It’s 24. We just don’t have the equipment and manpower.”

Last updated: 11:02 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

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