City trying to thin out weed control issues

Jun 7, 2012 By Emily Etheredge, Staff Writer

A lengthy discussion about weed removal made up the majority of the Riverton City Council meeting Tuesday.

City staff recommended to the council that the current ordinance dealing with weed enforcement be changed.

Administrative services director Courtney Bohlender addressed the council with a suggestion to change the current ordinance, which says the mayor will deliver written notices to anyone requiring a city notice for overgrown weeds.

The current ordinance states that once the notice is delivered to the occupant of a property, "the notice will order the addressee to cut, dig, destroy, and remove such weeds and dead trees within ten days after the date of mailing the notice."

Certified letters

"I think the mayor has more important things to do with his time than send out weed letters, and I would like to see this changed to having city staff sign off on the notices," Bohlender said. "The current ordinance also states that the city will send letters via certified mail that cost $5.75 each time we send a letter."

Bohlender said residents often say they never received the letters, and the responsibility falls on the city and not the owner because the letters were not delivered properly.

The other issue with the current ordinance is the form requires an administrative surcharge that is equal to 200 percent of the cost to remove the weeds and dead trees, and the surcharge cannot exceed $750.

"I would like to see this changed to a flat rate of $50 plus the cost of cutting the weeds to make sure the city gets our money as quickly as possible," Bohlender said.

Bohlender said the city has had difficulty with the collection of weed nuisances in the past.

Water threat

Councilman Richard Gard said issues with weeds would be cut down drastically if the city shut off water to those with weed problems.

Urbigkit said city codes would not allow water to be shut off for an unpaid fine.

Councilman Lars Baker said he had a problem with the ordinance and wondered if the goal was about community beautification.

"If beautification of Riverton is what we are after then it is technically left up to the eye of the beholder," Baker said. "I don't think people enjoy growing weeds, and I am wondering if we have gone far enough with this situation. Does this conversation lead us to a larger discussion that we should have at a different time?"

Urbigkit said he asked council members at the work session meeting April 10 what height of weeds should be deemed too high and the response was no one cared.

Gard said he has received a weed notice in the past and said the process of weed removal is so long that winter eventually comes and kills the weeds.

"Everyone that gets a weed notice has a weed problem, when your water is turned off, you get busy," Gard said. "I also think we could get a youth group, the police Explorer program or some other organization to step up and do some service work that was immediate. This would get to the point quickly."

Gard said the city needs to streamline the cost of weed removal and pick up the pace because by the time the cost is figured out, the weeds could have been cut.

Mayor ready to sign

Warpness said he appreciated Bohlender's concerns but anything that took away from the authority of the mayor was not a good step forward.

"I personally don't remember signing a lot of weed notices, so unless city staff has been signing off for me, I don't remember all that many," Warpness said.

Warpness said his issue was with city crews conducting weed removal instead of hiring contractors.

"This concerns me a lot if the city is going to take on the role of being a contractor and put us in competition with other contractors," Warpness said. "If our city staff has enough time to be mowing weeds, then do we have too many people in that area?"

Warpness said he disagreed with having the city go in and take care of private property.

Gard said the jobs need to go to independent contractors because they're trying to make a living.

Public vs. private

City administrator Steven Weaver said that when private contractors would be sent to do the task, the owner of the property would report that certain aspects of the job never occurred.

"The contractors were acting as agents of the city and costing the city, but with city staff doing the job it is easier to hold people accountable," Weaver said. "With a contractor, we couldn't have this step by step process."

Warpness said contractors could be required to give a detailed account of weed removal in their contract.

Urbigkit said if the city had to hire a contractor and watch them perform the job then city staff might as well do the job.

Gard said if the city wasn't timely then the weeds would get out of hand, and the reason for a private contractor was having a detailed schedule of when things happen.

Gard asked how many residents were receiving notices for weed removal.

2011 citations

Urbigkit said that in 2011 there were 23 such properties, and city crews were able to get the job done.

Warpness said there was still a need for further discussion, but there is time for the ordinance to be amended at future readings.

Gard said he was willing to pass the ordinance but give it more latitude.

"We are currently in weed season, and we want to motivate people to cut their weeds," Gard said." "If there are just 23 places then we can cover that."

The ordinance was passed on first reading.

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