By Kalea hall
After dealing with cutting the grass on some vacant private properties throughout Austintown, township trustees are considering raising the fee that comes with acting as a lawn-care provider.
Instead of charging the usual $55 per hour worked for cutting the lawn of a vacant home, the township would charge a minimum $500.
“My biggest complaint is that the township is not in the landscape business,” said trustee Jim Davis. “My biggest issue is that the money that it costs to do this can be used to pave roads.”
The township trustees, during their next meeting Monday, will discuss increasing the rates charged to cut grass.
Issues with vacant properties in residential neighborhoods causing frustration in Austintown are not new. Ever since the housing market collapsed, the number of homeowners abandoning their properties increased, causing communities across the nation to have to front the cost of cleaning up their neighborhoods.
“This situation is absolutely not isolated,” said trustee Lisa Oles. “It is a nationwide epidemic.”
As soon as spring hits and the grass starts growing, the township gets flooded with calls from frustrated neighbors of vacant homes where the grass is sometimes 2 to 3 feet high. From May 13 to June 10, the township received 109 high-grass nuisance complaints. The township has mowed the grass at 39 of those properties.
At the June 10 trustees meeting, the board approved lawn care for 21 other properties. How many of those lawns were actually cut by the township will not be known until the next trustees meeting. Before taking action and mowing the lawn, the township is required by state law to give the owner of record a seven-day notice of the cost.
“It’s a cumbersome process,” said Darren Crivelli, zoning inspector.
There is a time of legal limbo after a homeowner deserts a house and when the bank actually forecloses on it.
“There really is no responsible owner,” Crivelli said.
It is also a difficult process to get money back to replace the taxpayer dollars the township spent on mowing the lawns. “The last time I looked, we got it back from the property tax — 25 percent of our costs,” said Mike Dockry, township administrator.
The cost for cutting the lawns was more than $40,000 one year, according to Davis.
“Unfortunately there are so many vacancies and foreclosures that this is the problem it has created,” Davis said.
One of these vacant homes sits on Crabwood Drive. The grass is nearly 2 feet tall and can easily be noticed among the neatly cut lawns of the surrounding homes. The neighbors across the street and next door are upset over the eyesore in their neighborhood.
“Anytime you have something like this, certainly it takes away from the [value of] the homes,” said Ken Skelly, a Crabwood resident.
Skelly, who has lived on Crabwood Drive for 47 years, said he does not care who cuts the grass, even if it is his taxpayer dollars being spent.
“It will get [cut] down one of these days,” Skelly said.