By John L. Braese
VALE – The neighbors are calling City Hall. Sitting in their front yard on a warm summer night, all they can see from a porch is an empty house across the street — windows broken, door hanging off the hinges and feral cats using the home to beat the heat. A car sits in the side yard, only the top visible because dry, dead weeds reach five feet or better.
During a recent Vale City Council meeting, City Manager Lynn Findley told councilors that complaints are up regarding the poor condition of properties in the city. In addition to weeds, abandoned vehicles and trailers, callers are increasingly notifying the city of stray dogs running the streets and tipping over trash.
Those complaints filter down to Sandy Cunha, the city’s ordinance officer.
Cunha said the increase doesn’t fall into one category or one cause.
“Talking about city owned property like alley ways, we were late due an injury on the city crew and one guy quitting,” Cunha said. “Weeds on city property that are normally mowed down early in the year did not get done early enough.”
As for private properties, Cunha said the problems are not increasing. It is just the same property owners being called on again and again.
“For weeds and vehicles, most of the people are repeat offenders and they don’t live in Vale,” she said. “Absentee landlords are a big problem.”
For problem properties with landlords living elsewhere, Cunha can’t just walk up to the door and have a friendly chat.
“We have to go through the process of writing to them and they then have 10 days to respond,” she said. “If the problem is still not fixed, we have to go through the abatement process which takes time and a number of hearings.”
The city attempts to help, offering landlords names of local companies or individuals that can be hired to clean up the property.
If the abatement goes through, the city hires to clean up the property, passing the cost on to the landowner.
One other problem identified by Cunha was the past winter.
“People were working on cleaning up destroyed buildings, not mowing weeds,” Cunha said. “I think everyone got a late start on weeds and debris.”
Even when a homeowner is cited and pleads guilty, the result is not a cleaned property.
“We had one person issued a citation, pled guilty in court and because he had no money, was ordered to give a cord of wood to a needy person,” said Cahuna. “He did not give any wood and the place was still not cleaned up.”
A last problem is a small percentage of properties where the city can’t find the owner.
“Sometimes they just walk away and can never be found,” Cahuna said. “It may take a long time before the property is sold for back county taxes and the city cannot afford to pay the clean up on these properties every year. There are some we have never found the owners.”
The dog issue is one with an easy answer, according to Cahuna.
“Dog licenses in Vale are $5 if spayed or neutered and $10 dollars if not,” said Cahuna. “If I find dog that is licensed, I can return it home. It is hard to find where the dog belongs if I don’t know whose dog it is.”
Have a news tip? Contact reporter John L. Braese at 541-473-3377 or [email protected].