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Officials: We can only mow front lawns, not entire lot

JOHNSTOWN — One resident’s concerns over the city’s ability to correct lawn maintenance violations under city code prompted the city engineer on Monday to remind residents that the city only has the legal authority to mow the front lawns of non-compliant properties.

During the public comment portion of Monday’s Common Council meeting city resident Bob Gould commented on the number of properties out of compliance with city code regulations requiring lawns to be maintained through mowing.

“In my opinion the town is getting scruffy looking,” Gould said, noting that he compiled a list of 37 un-mowed properties that he turned over to Code Enforcer Bruce Heberer at the fire station in July. “I counted the ones where the grass was up to at least your knees, where nothing had been done obviously since the snow thawed.”

Gould commented that the city had subsequently done a “good job” cleaning up a number of the properties, but said 15 of the un-mowed properties he reported remained out of compliance as of Monday’s meeting.

“Those properties are the same ones that never get taken care of,” Gould said.

Later in the meeting while delivering his monthly report, City Engineer Christopher Vose noted that the Department of Public Works is responsible for tackling property owners’ overgrown lawns, but said the DPW is unable to police compliance with the city’s lawn maintenance requirements. Still, he said the department tries to respond to complaints reported by residents and the code enforcer.

“Unless those actual addresses are reported to us it may not get done, so if residents have complaints and see properties they want to get done, please notify myself or my office,” Vose said. “We try to act on those as quickly as we can, but unfortunately there is a process that we have to follow.”

When property owners fail to maintain their lawns, allowing grass to exceed approximately six inches in height, Vose said his office issues a letter notifying property owners that they have 48 hours to comply with city code standards or the city will mow the lawn at the property owner’s expense.

If the issue is not corrected, the city performs the work, charging property owners based on lot size according to a fee schedule outlined in the notification letter that is assessed on the property owner’s annual tax bill. No additional citation for a code violation for an overgrown lawn is assessed.

Vose also pointed out that although the city is authorized to mow the front yards of non-compliant properties, it has no legal authority to perform the work in backyards, possibly explaining any continued presence of overgrown lawns following reported complaints.

“We don’t have the legal ability to go in the backyard and mow it, so if you see the front is mowed and the back is not, that is as far as we can take it,” Vose said.

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