Council squabbles over property codes

Published 10:22 am Monday, February 16, 2015

Board ultimately increases administrative fees after debate

In an effort to keep up with the times and create a bigger incentive for people to maintain their properties, the Franklin City Council approved a few changes that might impact your wallet should you fall behind.

In four different codes, the administrative fee will move from $75 to $100 if the City has to intervene in property maintenance. The changes will also have other financial impacts. The affected codes relate to mowing the lawn, keeping junk vehicles in plain sight, accumulation of refuse and larger household items being left on the curbside.

For the grass cutting, the City will charge a homeowner or tenant whatever the contractor charges, plus the administrative fee of $100. If that’s not paid within 10 days, a 10 percent interest penalty will be added to the account. The City can also put a lien on the property if an owner does not pay.

City Manager Randy Martin said that unfortunately some residents are taking advantage of the City as a mowing service. As it stood, the fees of having the City mow it four times a season were comparable or even cheaper to hiring a professional service to take care of the lawn. That’s particularly bad because if the City has trouble tracking down the funding, it indirectly comes at the taxpayers’ expense.

“We do not want to be in the business of mowing lawns,” Martin said, adding that the City mows as many as 40 lawns a month during grass-cutting season. “We don’t make any money on it, and it ties up the staff. The admin fee is supposed to act, at least partly, as a deterrent.”

This vote passed 6-1, with Mayor Raystine Johnson-Ashburn voting Nay due to the administrative fees.

If a resident keeps a junk car that hasn’t run in the past 60 days or longer in plain sight, the City will have a towing company remove it at the owner’s expense, plus the administrative fee. Previously, the towing fee could not exceed $50, but now there is no limit.

To get the vehicle back, the owner must pay the administrative fee, and then pay the towing company before retrieval. After a certain time, the vehicle will become the property of the towing agency where it is stored.

Out of sight includes a fully enclosed garage, or behind a fence so that it can not be seen from public property.

Simply putting a cover over the vehicle and keeping it in the front lawn or on the curb will not suffice, according to state law. A person in violation can be charged with a class IV misdemeanor.

Ward 3’s Greg McLemore voted Nay on this issue, saying he has a junk car because it is cheaper to take parts from it for his car. He said this issue affects more than just himself.

“If someone owns property, and if it is covered up, but they don’t have a garage as an option, then it is putting an unnecessary hardship on anyone, who might have a reason for keeping a vehicle,” McLemore said. “This is another law that hurts poor people.”

The city can fine you up to $500 when enough trash builds up on a property that it becomes a public nuisance where it not only looks bad, but also stinks, accumulates vermin and becomes a public health hazard. And now, there is also an administrative fee of $100, and the 10 percent interest penalty can also be tacked on after 10 days of no pay.

For the curbside removal of bulky waste not in accordance to the city’s policy, the city has traditionally charged $250. Now, they are charging residents for the tipping fee, plus $100, and the 10 percent interest fee after 10 days.

“I have received calls for the last two to three years about furniture sitting on the side of the street,” Ward 5’s Mary Hilliard said. “I do see a need for this ordinance.”

While McLemore and Johnson-Ashburn voted for all but one of them each, they didn’t like increasing the administrative fees.

“As these have gone through, we are raising the fees,” McLemore said. “Who’s paying them? The people who live in the city. How, collectively, are we benefitting our citizenry?”

Martin said every taxpayer is already paying for it indirectly, because the City spends time doing multiple inspections and filing liens on the property at the courthouse.

McLemore, however, wasn’t convinced, figuring that since the problems won’t be going away anytime soon, that this is just part of their jobs.

“Particularly with the administrative fees — we’re talking about someone sending a bill while on the city’s clock. They are also paid to do the inspection,” he said. “We want people to live here, and we want this to be a nice city. But for us to raise fees on citizens like this, I don’t see how it helps.”