City replaces $10 vacant lawn cuts by YNDC with 7 contractors being paid $30
By Graig Graziosi
Less green in the city’s coffers will mean more green in the lots of vacant homes throughout Youngstown this summer.
Under the city’s new grass cutting program, fewer lawns of vacant homes will be cut by the end of the summer despite the city budgeting for the same number of cuts it paid for last year.
The Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation handled the grass program between 2015 and 2017, charging $10 per cut and completing more than 10,000 cuts each year.
Under the new program announced by the mayor’s office, the YNDC has been replaced by seven contractors, who are currently being paid $30 per cut, according to Kyle Miasek, the deputy finance director.
“In the past we had a contract over the length of the summer. Now we’re doing it by cut. We were paying monthly for the cost of the employees at YNDC. They were tackling properties every day and we essentially had unlimited cuts. Now because we’re working with contractors, that $200,000 can only cover so many cuts,” Miasek said.
The new contractors are: Dare to Dream Foundation, Tucker and Son’s Lawn Care, United Returning Citizens, Art’s Lawn Care, Phylum LLC, Eartha Shade Enterprises and Craig’s Lawn Service.
Under the current program, the city can pay for approximately 6,600 cuts.
Miasek said the city chose not to continue with YNDC because the organization’s proposal would have required funding beyond the $200,000 the city budgeted.
Ian Beniston, the executive director of the YNDC, said the organization requested $225,000, which would have been used to cover the cost of additional labor and management costs.
The YNDC formerly relied on the Mahoning Columbiana Training Association’s Summer Youth Employment program to provide workers for the summer grass-cutting season, but according to Beniston, changes in the program kept the organization from utilizing those workers. As a result, the YNDC needed to bring on more workers for the summer months.
Though YNDC was requesting more money, the grass cutting program effectively paid for itself; according to documents provided by the YNDC, in 2017 the city collected $501,971 through the grass cutting program, resulting in a surplus of $308,833 after accounting for program costs. That number could grow in future years as well, as nearly $4 million was assessed to property taxes as a result of the grass cutting and vacant house board-up program.
In 2014, under the city’s previous grass cutting plan relying on contractors, the city collected only $2,320 and completed only 2,897 cuts. That year, the program resulted in a loss for the city of $119,241.65.
Mayor Jamael Tito Brown couldn’t be reached for comment on the decision to implement a new system.
Mike Durkin, superintendent of code enforcement and blight remediation, said the city is already moving to address problem lawns, as grounds crews have already begun an extensive sweep of the city, targeting lawns recommended by residents, council members and community police.
“We’ll do at least 3,000 cuts on the first sweep,” Durkin said. “If funds are available, we’ll do a second comprehensive sweep, and following that we’ll be responding to lawns based on the complaints we’ve received,” Durkin said.
Much like the YNDC workers did, the new contractors will have to verify that the grass on the site of a vacant home has reached at least eight inches before they can cut, and they must photograph the lawn before and after their work.
Individuals who own vacant homes where lots are cut in this manner will be charged $150 per cut, according to Durkin.
Unlike YNDC, the city won’t be sending out survey crews to identify lots in need of cutting – after the first major round of cuts, lawns will be dealt with as the city receives complaints about them.
“Finances will dictate toward end of summer what all we’ll be able to do,” Durkin said. “We have a starting list and we’re getting complaints on a daily basis. The number of lawns on our list goes up every day.”