Grass, weeds are the problem

EAST PALESTINE – The village is tightening the reins on its enforcement of high weeds and grass.

Continuing the Sept. 9 discussion this week in special session, council members agreed more enforcement and a building and zoning inspector are necessary.

The village had an inspector until 2009 when the person in that position retired and the village opted to continue without one for financial reasons.

Under the village charter those duties were given to the manager, who could divide some between the police and fire chiefs and whomever else they chose.

“I don’t think the manager can do the job he is doing and the job he has to do,” Councilman Fran Figley said, referring to enforcement of the high weed and grass problem in certain areas.

Monteleone agreed and said a paid part-time building and zoning inspector will likely be on staff at the start of next year.

“The good news is we are optimistic we are going to get one,” he said.

Council began the discussion when former Mayor Jim Lynch complained about the current high weeds and grass procedure at the last meeting.

He said it allows property owners time to skirt the issue, and when the deadline does approach the season is over, with grass and weeds dying off to cold weather.

The way it works now the village sends a notification letter to property owners and they have 30 days to respond. If they don’t the village mows the lawn and they receive charges on their tax bill after the fact.

Lynch said something needs to be done to habitual offenders and Figley agreed.

The councilman said he knows of five to 10 properties that have high grass each year. He believes property owners should be taken to court for habitual offenses.

Speaking of unkempt properties in general, he said, “We have a couple of landlords in this town … and they are destroying our city, our village. What can we do?”

Village Solicitor Shirley Smith said they need to follow due process.

“If it is a private property there are things we have to do. Council would need to decide -or a zoning inspector, or Pete’s authority- would decide it is an unsafe property,” she said.

Councilman Alan Cohen said he believed more people would comply if they knew they were committing a misdemeanor offense.

Councilwoman Ellen Beagle and Figley agreed.

“When you have complaints, complaints, complaints, there has to be repercussions,” Beagle said.

Monteleone said habitual offenders will be charged financially and criminally.

“That’s what I want to do is make the repercussion of what they are doing is go to court, pay a fine and reimbursement,” he said.

The procedure for next year will be if a property owner is notified once, the next time they will not receive notification but the property will be mowed by the village as usual, only this time a fine will be imposed on top of the regular charge.

Smith said the village’s existing ordinances already allow for this authority.

Figley mentioned a property on James Street was becoming unbearable and Monteleone said he and Smith are preparing to take legal action against the owner.

It is the first property targeted for legal action since Monteleone has been manager, and he said the village has been working to address the problems since before he was hired.

He said it is an “ongoing problem” and described the house itself as a “constantly unfinished” project. He said it has been partially sided for quite some time.

Council also discussed problems relating to tree limbs extending out into traffic and scratching cars.

Monteleone said he gets tree complaints on a weekly basis and that he inspects the trees to see whether they are located on village property or private property.

“If it’s on our property we always address them. That is something we deal with regularly,” he said.