Aldermen want grass cut soon

Published 12:45 am Wednesday, July 25, 2007

NATCHEZ — Two aldermen want overgrown grass cut — whether it’s the city or the property owner who does it — and they want it done soon.

Driving through areas in Wards 1 and 2, one notices that the term “grass cutting” is a little misleading. Yards look less like overgrown grass than it does a jungle of tall bushes, trees, weeds of every sort and plenty of kudzu. It’s hard to even see some of the houses through the thick vegetation.

If a resident fails to cut his grass, the city can cut it and charge him for it. But to cut grass on private property, the city has to go through a procedure of warning the property owner, which takes about a month.

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After that, the city’s public works department can cut the vegetation. But it’s not going fast enough, Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis said Tuesday. One property was requested to be cut in March, she said.

“This is the end of July,” Mathis said. “These people have lived through this all summer long.”

Most of the overgrown properties stand in stark contrast to neighboring manicured lawns.

“These people take care of their houses,” Mathis said. “They shouldn’t have to drive pas this to get to their houses.”

Neighbors of the overgrown properties fear rodents, snakes and, in the case of abandoned houses, fire, Mathis said.

“It looks like I’m not doing anything,” Mathis said. “When election time comes, it’s not going to be the city planning department or public works who people look to.”

Alderman James “Ricky” Gray, too, has expressed on a regular basis his concern about the overgrown lots.

“People think we’re just talking, but look at it,” Gray said, pointing to a house so covered in kudzu that only the roof poked out.

Code enforcement officer Anita Smith sends the warning letters to property owners. There are roughly 200 properties in town that need to be addressed, she said.

“The process is just too long,” Smith said. “When we started (one property’s process) in March, I hoped it would get done by May. But it’s July, and it’s still not done.”

The problem is the volume of work and a shortage of personnel to do it, Public Works Director Eric Smith said.

“The biggest problem is our manpower,” Smith said. “It’s backlogged due to personnel. We just don’t have the manpower. It’s tough to juggle.”

Things were moving along until the Woodville prison said the city could not use its loaned prisoners to clear private land, he said.

“I had a pretty good system going, but I found out that (state) inmates could not work on private property,” he said.

Smith’s office sees 15 to 20 new work orders for clearing private property, he said. His office has to tackle those as well as other city responsibilities.

It can take three or four men days to tackle a severely overgrown lot.

“Most lots have sapling trees on them, which takes a little longer because equipment has to be brought in,” Smith said. “It first has to be sprayed to run off rodents and snakes.

“The next day, we will go over with three or four men. That takes eight to 10 hours, and that’s just to clean it. Persons will come the next day with a loader and dump truck to haul it off.”

Smith said he hopes to have another efficient system worked out soon to address the problem and speed up the process.