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Mow-mentous problem

By DARREL RADFORD - dradford@thecouriertimes.com

City Councilman Jerry Walden had to vent.

Every summer, it’s like watching reruns of a bad movie. The same properties with the same untended yards and the same indifference by the people who own them.

“It’s really frustrating,” said Walden, who represents Ward 3. “You have this really nice piece of property and you have these two properties beside it that I wouldn’t want near my house. It just seems like Ward 3 has a lot of that going on right now.”

Walden’s remarks came at the June 3 New Castle City Council meeting. 

“I’m just frustrated,” Walden said. “I’m frustrated for Kenny Melton, our building inspector who has to deal with these issues. I’m frustrated for the homeowners who live beside these properties.”

This year, the problem has been exacerbated by the relentless wet weather. But no matter the weather forecast, the issues are very predictable, according to Walden.

“If you call Kenny, he knows exactly what and where you’re talking about,” Walden said. “Many of the problems are behind the same houses in the same alleys.”

Mayor Greg York and City Attorney David Copenhaver said formation of a city land bank earlier this year will help.

“You have to remain diligent,” Copenhaver said. “You have to keep at it. You can’t get so frustrated that you give up. You have to try new things. Hopefully, the land bank will help.”

A Land Bank, formed by Council action earlier this year, will give city officials lots of options it hasn’t had before, according to Copenhaver.

“The City has acquired properties in various ways over the years that they may wish to put in the land bank,” Copenhaver said. “Where the land banks have become most successful is when they target an area that is in a neighborhood in decline and having a number of vacant homes, then cluster them and try to sell those lots to a developer who would then try to improve that neighborhood.”

But at the most recent council meeting, Copenhaver also had words of caution about expectations for the land bank.

“The land bank can only be as good as the money it has to work with and funds are limited,” Copenhaver said. “We want nice parks. We want good roads. We want to pay our policemen more. All those things take money and there’s only so much to go around. It’s sad that some homeowners don’t take care of their own property. That’s not really a traditional role of government.”

While back yards become junk yards or jungles, there are legal weeds to navigate through before anything can be done.

“We have a property that’s two blocks from this front door that’s caught on fire twice,” York said. “The homeowner doesn’t want it and had no insurance. We still have to go through the legal system.”

Last year, the New Castle Building Inspector’s Office sent out 382 letters to property owners who either neglected or refused to mow their properties. It is an extra burden for the city, not to mention an expensive proposition for the property owner.

A letter is sent. Property owners have seven days to mow. If they don’t, the property is put on a city list to mow. A fee is charged and if property owners don’t pay that, it turns into a lien on the taxes. By the time it’s all said and done, the cost could rise to as much as $200.

And that’s per mowing.

“There are some people we lien three or four times per year,” Melton said last year.

Walden wants the citizens who live beside these properties to know one thing.

“We’re trying,” he said. “I don’t want people to think we’re not concerned.”