The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

July 10, 2013

City looks to improve lot mowing schedule

BY JENNIFER BAILEY
Commercial-News

DANVILLE — It was only a few years ago the city had 200-300 vacant and abandoned lots to mow. That number is now around 400.

The topic of how often the city mows these vacant and abandoned lots was brought up by Ward 1 Alderman Rickey Williams Jr.

Williams says the city finds money for “wants,” such as the medians being installed on North Vermilion Street and other landscaping projects. He asked city officials to find more money for this need — to mow lots more often.

The tall grass and look of these lots affect residents and neighborhoods, especially in Williams’ ward, he said.

Ward 6 Alderman Jon Cooper and Ward 7 Alderman Bill Black said all neighborhoods deal with these overgrown lots, especially with foreclosures.

Public Works Director Doug Ahrens told the city council’s Public Works Committee Tuesday night it would cost at least $42,000 to add another crew to mow lots. The cost would be $9 an hour for 32 weeks of a season, or $14,000 a person for another three-person crew, Ahrens said. He also estimates it would cost $5,000 to purchase more mowers, weed eaters and a couple small trailers.

To cut the every four-to-five-week mowing cycle in half to mow the lots every two to three weeks, Ahrens said two more three-person crews would be needed to help the probation department persons and also help the current two city staff persons using mowers and weed eaters on lots with structures.

Ahrens said one person using a tractor to mow about 195 lots with no structures is working on about a two-three week schedule now. But he also added a mowing schedule of every four to five weeks isn’t new for the city. This year’s growing season has been hard to keep up with.

Mayor Scott Eisenhauer said he will present a proposal to improve the mowing schedule at next week’s city council meeting. There would have to be a budget amendment.

Williams said the No. 1 complaint he hears from constituents is about properties not being maintained.

“We always find money for what we feel is important …,” Williams said. “We’re not getting to (the lots) enough. Where can we find money to help?”

The city is on its third round of mowing lots this year. Funding for the mowing comes from the telecommunications tax for proactive code enforcement.

Mowing fines are $300, but the success rate in collecting on any fines is “very poor,” city officials say.

There can be ownership issues or persons who die with no heirs, Ahrens said about some properties. Ahrens estimates that as many as about 100 of the lots are foreclosures.

Some mortgage companies are mowing some of the lots, he added.

“Not all are a burden on the taxpayers,” Ahrens said. “They are in town mowing.”

Ahrens said city officials are looking at materials being planted for soil coverage so the growth is lower.

Eisenhauer said the city also is still trying to look at putting liens on property tax bills for fines of more than $1,000 and also placing liens against income tax.

In other business Tuesday, committee members recommended:

Purchasing nine street light poles and 15 luminaires for $33,517 from Springfield Electric Supply Co. of Danville. The price includes delivery. The street lights are scheduled for replacement along Vermilion Street, between Harrison and Seminary streets.

The work will be coordinated with the Vermilion Street improvement project.

Some lighting will be in the new medians in the middle of the street.

Funding will come from the city’s general fund — streets division — materials to maintain boulevard lights.

Authorizing a payment not to exceed $28,000 to A & R Mechanical of Danville for emergency repairs and replacements for the air conditioning portion of the mechanical systems at the city’s public works facility at 1155 E. Voorhees St.

Authorizing execution and amendment of the Downstate Operating Assistance Grant agreement with the Illinois Department of Transportation for Danville Mass Transit.