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Council mulls backyard upkeep

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

From Bulletin staff reports

Martinsville officials are looking at the possibility of extending property maintenance code enforcement to backyards.

The city traditionally has focused on making sure people keep their property in good condition within the view of public rights of way.

City building/property maintenance officials told Martinsville City Council on Tuesday they have concerns about applying the code to backyards, including increasing the work load of a small staff, as well as the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which deals with ensuring that government searches of private property are reasonable.

To his understanding, Fire Marshal/Building Official Ted Anderson said, cities that impose property maintenance codes on backyards are “a rarity.”

However, Vice Mayor Gene Teague said he thinks people do not understand why Martinsville does not target backyards.

Under a proposal put forth by Anderson and Deputy Fire Marshal/Property Maintenance Official Andy Powers, a list of shabby backyards that come to the city’s attention would be prioritized by the inspections department and then presented to the council.

A document shows the council would select four of the listed properties per year — basically, one every three months — to certify as nuisances and force owners to do the work needed to bring them in compliance.

If the owners do not comply, the city would do the work for them, officials indicated.

At a fee, that is. Powers said that in instances such as when city crews have gone onto private land to, for example, mow high grass that the owner has neglected, the minimum bill sent to the owner has been $225.

If the council certifies backyards as nuisances, “it gives us a much bigger stick” to carry, said City Attorney Eric Monday.

According to Mayor Kim Adkins, council members need time to digest the issue and information that Anderson and Powers presented to them before considering the issue further.

Also at Tuesday’s council meeting, Adkins presented Citizens Against Family Violence a proclamation in recognition of October being Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

One out of every four women will be a domestic violence victim during her lifetime, the proclamation shows.

 

 
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