Houston considers mowing changes

CITY OF HOUSTON FLAGHOUSTON – The city is seeking to cut costs and may ask homeowners to cut their yards out to the street next spring.

The Houston Board of Aldermen discussed a proposal last week that would require property owners to be responsible for the upkeep of property in front of their home and also to mow ditches on their property.

“The city spends a lot of time on ditch mowing and trimming up right-of-way,” said Houston Mayor Stacey Parker. “We are looking at requiring property owners to maintain that.”

The city has a tractor and boom that is uses to mow ditches, but the equipment has broken down repeatedly and is costly to maintain. The city also mows right-of-way with bushhogs, but the schedule is random, the cut is unsightly and residents often complain of the ruts the heavy equipment leaves.

“Is there any reason why that is not something we can ask people to do,” said Alderman-At-Large Barry Springer. “If it is an occupied home they should want to be responsible for it. Unless it is agricultural land they should want it cut the same time they mow their yard.”

Place 1 Alderman Tony Uhiren said the city has asked its contract mowers of city property not to use herbicide on city right-of-way and asked if residents would also be banned from spraying ditches and property fronting the street.

“We’ve already got a couple of people using Roundup on some ditches in my ward,” said Uhiren. “We’ve seen where, without the cover, the ditches wash out and get deeper with each rain.”

Uhiren said this could erode the shoulder and prompt costly repairs to the street.

Aldermen also pondered a variance that would allow them to mow for the elderly or for extremely deep ditches.

Springer said he would call surrounding communities and see if they had an ordinance on right-of-way mowing and how they handle this problem.

Houston city employees will make one final cut after the first frost and, unless the city adopts a new ordinance, will resume mowing next spring.

The city has embarked on a number of clean-up and community beautification projects. For more than two years the city has repeatedly cleaned up and mowed overgrown or unsightly property and sent the property owner a bill. Bills that are unpaid see the city place a lien on the property owner’s tax bill.

That ordinance requires the city to go through a specific process. The property is deemed a safety or health hazard and this allows the city to go on the property to clean it up.

State law does not allow city equipment to go on private property unless there is an easement or a specific variance is drawn up and signed by both the city and property owner.

In other business:

• The city heard from Ruth Gunn who questioned a water bill that doubled last month. Gunn was told the city had a situation where almost 30 percent of the city’s meters were read incorrectly last month. Parker said that problem has been resolved and city residents with a higher than normal water bill are given six months to get the bill paid. Parker said the city’s base rate of 3,000 gallons costs about $32 a month.

• The board approved a rezoning request for Jeff and Julie Hollingsworth for property behind Moore’s Restaurant on North Jackson Street. The Hollingsworths want to build a house on their property and sought a change from C-3 commercial to R-1 residential.

• The city approved Natchez Trace EPA hanging Christmas light in Courthouse trees and on light poles for $6,500. Natchez Trace splits the cost with the city as a public service.

Place 2 Alderman Shenia Jones asked if city workers could handle connecting and installing lights since this cost has gone up this holiday season.

Ricko Nichols, Public Works Director, said city workers are not trained or insured to handle that kind of work.

“I like the lights, but we can’t give raises to our employees,” said Jones. “I would like for us to look at something different next year.”

• Aldermen approved Watkins, Ward & Stafford to conduct the 2012-13 city audit. There was discussion on how this work was bid and advertised and the board was told Watkins, Ward & Stafford is one of only a few CPA firms that does this work in the state.

• Police Chief Billy Voyles approached the board seeking a pay raise for patrolman Curt Myers. Voyles pointed out Myers had graduated the Police Academy and he felt the raise was merited.

On a motion by Jones and a second by Springer the board approved Myers’ pay increase.

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