By Marlana Ward
While most public comments made at the monthly meetings of the Town of Mountain City Board of Mayor and Aldermen concern requests to allow fundraising on town streets or official support for community events, this month’s meeting zeroed in on a passionate plea for city government intervention.
Ted Gentry, a Mountain City citizen who lives on Reece Avenue, took advantage of the opportunity to approach the town’s officials to voice his discontent at the town’s lack of enforcing property maintenance regulations as presented in the town’s ordinances. Gentry explained to the governing body that multiple properties on Reece Ave, as well as residences sharing the Reece Ave/Murphy St alleyway, were failing to comply to the ordinance and causing health concerns for other residents in the neighborhood as rats and other rodents were increasing in number due to overgrown vegetation and failure to keep garbage contained.
Gentry’s first complaint was that one property owner repeatedly refused to mow their lawn or remove motor vehicles, which had been inoperable for years. He expressed how everyone else in the neighborhood understood their responsibility to maintain their property and how other property owners should be expected to do the same. Gentry went on to say that if the town refused to enforce its ordinances, he would like to be included among those not required to abide by the rules or excused from paying his city taxes since he did not see the town as meeting its obligations to taxpayers.
City Recorder Sheila Shaw stated that when she was given a list of properties, which were not in compliance with town ordinances, she issued letters requesting action by property owners to come into compliance. She had not been instructed to send the letters for this year but would do so as soon as she was given a list of properties to be contacted.
Shaw explained in an email later how properties are brought to her attention and how notice is given to landowners. “The violations are, for the most part, brought to my attention by complaints from the public,” she stated. “Most complaints happen around this time of year. Last year, I sent out around 20 letters to property owners and residents. In cases of rentals, I send a letter to the property owner as well as the resident.”
The town’s policy regarding property maintenance is outlined and defined in Title 13 of the town’s ordinances. Section 13-105 states: “Every owner or tenant of property shall periodically cut the grass and other vegetation commonly recognized as weeds on his property, and it shall be unlawful for any person to fail to comply with an order by the town recorder or chief of police to cut such vegetation when it has reached a height over one foot.”
Section 13-107 explains citizens’ responsibilities to help ensure public health safety by maintaining their property. “Every owner or tenant of property shall maintain yards and/or vacant lots in a manner as not to be a menace to public health; but in a clean and sanitary condition, free from refuse or debris which might provide harborage or breeding place for rodents, vermin, insects or snakes.”
Ordinance #1347 details the actions, which may be taken by the town to ensure compliance with the Title 13 regulations concerning properties deemed a risk to public health. The ordinance states that a notice of record in violation of a particular subsection shall be served to the offending property’s owner. The notice will include a statement explaining the violation, contact information of the department issuing the notice, a cost estimate for remedying the violation, and an explanation of how the property owner can return a copy of the notice indicating the desire for a hearing.
According to the ordinance, if a property owner takes no action to come into compliance within 10 days of receiving notice the town may take action to remedy the offending condition. The ordinance also states that the city will hold the property owner responsible for the costs of clean up. If payment is not made, the city may place a lien upon the property to be placed on the tax rolls in the Register of Deeds office and will be subject to the same fees as delinquent property taxes if not paid.
Also outlined in the ordinance is a method of appeal for property owners. The ordinance states that an appeal must be made within 10 days following the receipt of the notice and failure to request an appeal within that time will constitute a waiver of the right to a hearing. Citizens may request a copy of the town’s ordinance or obtain more information by contacting City Hall.