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Vidalia issuing fines for grass taller than 8 inches

LAUREN WOOD/THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Vidalia Police Department Code Enforcement Officer Dwayne Thomas takes a photograph of a house on Myrtle Street before issuing them a warning that the residence is in possible violation of the city’s grass cutting ordinance Thursday afternoon.

VIDALIA — Residents with grass higher than 8 inches will have 10 days to cut it before receiving a citation for up to $250 or be imprisoned for more than 30 days.

On top of those fines, residents who don’t cut their lots or pay the fines will be charged an additional $150 to $400 for City of Vidalia employees to cut, destroy and remove the overgrown grass or weeds.

The city’s grass cutting ordinance was reviewed at Tuesday’s board of aldermen meeting, but didn’t need any amendments or revisions as previously believed.

Mayor Hyram Copeland wanted to give code enforcement officers the ability to write citations or issue summons to appear in court for the overgrown lots. That ability, however, was included in an amendment to the ordinance that was approved in 2010.

Thomas places a sticker onto the back windshield of an abandoned vehicle while issuing a warning to move the vehicle Thursday afternoon on Spruce Street.

Vidalia Police Department code enforcement officer Dwayne Thomas said he had been enforcing the ordinance for some time, but the push from the mayor and board will be helpful in the long run.

“Most people are pretty good about keeping their grass under control, but you have to draw the line somewhere,” Thomas said. “And you’re going to have to hit those people with enough of a fine to hurt a little bit and get their attention.”

The amended ordinance says officers are instructed to give a 10-day notice to any resident with grass and weeds grown higher than 8 inches.

Thomas said most residents respond quickly after seeing the initial written warning.

“A lot of them are good about doing it the next day after I tell them it needs to be cut,” Thomas said. “But we do have a few that push the issue and those are the ones you have to keep going out and reminding all the time.”

Once that 10-day notice expires, officers can then deem the resident guilty of a misdemeanor and he can be fined no more than $250 or imprisoned for no more than 30 days, or both.

“If it’s their first time and they’ve been pretty good about keeping their grass cut in the past, we won’t charge them that full amount,” Thomas said. “If it keeps being a problem and we’re having to go out there several times to write citations, we’re going to make the penalty phase a little stiffer each time.”

If the overgrown lot is still not cut, the town must give the resident another 10-day notice, this time advertising in the local newspaper, before sending city employees to cut the lot.

A schedule of costs for weeds and obnoxious growth abatement varies depending on the size of the resident’s lot.

• 7,500 square feet or less is $150.

• 7,501 to 11,500 square feet is $175.

• 11,501 to 15,150 square feet is $200.

• 15,151 square feet to one acre is $300.

• Lots more than one acre are $400.

A written statement showing the cost or expense from the city employee’s work is then sent to the resident’s home.

If that statement is not paid within one month, the amount is included as part of the taxes due by the owner of the property at the end of the year.

“We’re going to do everything we can to notify them before it gets anywhere near that phase,” Thomas said. “But you need to have those fines in place so people don’t just shrug off written or other notices.”

The mayor and the board also asked Thomas and the police department to begin cracking down on abandoned vehicles throughout the city streets.

The city’s abandoned vehicle ordinance says it is unlawful to store or abandon any vehicle in any portion of a yard or lot in the city for more than 30 days.

After that 30-day period, a notice to remove the vehicle within 10 days is placed on the car in the form of a red sticker.

If the vehicle is not removed within the 10 days, it is taken into custody by the Vidalia Police Department and the owner is charged a $500 fine.

After removal, the department stores the vehicle and the owner is charged $10 to $15 a day.

After a period of 60 days, the vehicle is disposed or sold in public or private sale.