By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – The city on Tuesday imposed a collective $41,812 in fees and penalties on nearly two dozen property owners who failed to mow their lots.
Most involve foreclosed properties and absentee owners. In at least one case, the land owner is deceased.
City Council members this week unanimously approved the assessments, which will go against the properties as liens.
According to city code, lots must be regularly mowed and maintained to prevent the presence of rodents, snakes and mosquitos. Tupelo enforces that code based on complaints it receives about individual lots.
Owners receive a warning first. If they fail to respond, the Development Services Department holds a public hearing before declaring the property a nuisance. At that point, the city previously awarded lot-mowing contracts to the lowest bidder in a public bidding process. Fees under this system typically ranged from $30 to $150 depending on lot size and condition.
Owners then had 30 days to pay the bill. If they failed, the city assessed a $1,500 lien on the property in addition to the original fee for mowing.
But this spring, the city scrapped the bid process for in-house mowing done by the Public Works Department. Owners now are billed $300 no matter the lot’s size. Those in extremely poor condition cost $500. Again, those who fail to pay will have that amount – plus the $1,500 fine – assessed as a lien.
The city collects the money when – and if – the property changes hands or the owner decides to pay.
In addition to stiffening the punishment to negligent property owners, the new system speeds up the time from complaint to resolution by two or three weeks.
“We usually have them cut within about two days,” said Public Works Director Sid Russell.
Most of those on the current list are absentee owners, living out of the city or out of state. Some are repeat offenders. Among them is Cora Lee Jones, who, according to city License Coordinator Nikki Burton, died several years ago.