Don’t Cut Your Grass, Go to Jail


ED BALINT
CatnonRep
May 20, 2008

CANTON For residents tired of that overgrown lot that resembles a minijungle next door, the city wants to help by trying to put high-grass violators behind bars.

City Council wants to beef up its existing high-grass and weeds law by making a second offense a fourth-degree misdemeanor, which is punishable by a fine of up to $250 and up to 30 days in jail.

In the spring and summer, it’s not uncommon for council members to field complaints from residents about overgrown lots owned by individuals or banks and corporations that ignore the law and notices in the mail.

More than 8 inches constitutes high grass or weeds, according to city law. First-time violators now face a minor misdemeanor, which carries up to a $150 fine and no jail time.

The proposed amendment passed second reading Monday night, and is up for passage at next Monday’s council meeting.

Strengthening the law would give judges and police “a way to get their attention,” Law Director Joseph Martuccio said of lawbreakers. More pressure also could be applied to lot owners and those responsible through letters, conferences and prosecutor’s hearings, he said.

Service Director Thomas Bernabei initiated a review of the existing law. The city is responsible for mowing about 2,400 lots, he estimated at a committee meeting Monday night. Mowing the properties costs the city money, labor and time.

With the growing number of house foreclosures, high grass may be more problematic these days, Bernabei said. How long it takes the city to cut high grass depends on available workers and the number of complaints and lots, Bernabei said.

EQUAL ENFORCEMENT

If council would like a quicker response, it could allocate more money for labor and equipment, he said.

The city spends $225,000 to $250,000 a year on cutting overgrown lots, estimated Councilman Greg Hawk, D-1, who advocated taking a “hard line” on the issue.

Councilwoman Mary Cirelli, D-at large, said she supports the proposed legislation, but wants equal enforcement among residents and banks and corporations that own the unsightly properties.

Martuccio acknowledged it’s more difficult to pursue a corporation or bank criminally. However, he said “theoretically” it can be done by following a paper trail to an individual responsible for that corporation.

Pursuing the most egregious high-grass violators “with vigor” could draw media attention, Bernabei said, and serve as a deterrent. Other potential punishments are community service hours spent cutting grass and seeking a court order garnishing someone’s wages or issuing liens, he said.

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