08/03/10 — Mount Olive sets sights on overgrown properties

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Mount Olive sets sights on overgrown properties

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on August 3, 2010 1:59 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- Mount Olive property owners who do not maintain their property could face a hefty mowing bill from the town, and further consequences if they do not pay the charges.

The town Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Monday to crack down on unkempt lots judged a health hazard or nuisance by town code enforcement officers.

Concerned citizen Sheila Oates appeared before the board asking the members to do something about the weeds and tall grass on some properties around town. The unsightly look might drive visitors away from Mount Olive, she said.

"You've got to have it inviting," she said.

In the past, the town has mown overgrown lots and then struggled to collect money from property owners. Under the new policy, if a property owner does not pay the grass-cutting bill, the bill can be turned over to the state Department of Revenue and they might even discover a lien placed against their property.

Once a lot is judged hazardous by code enforcement officers, the property owner will be notified and have 15 days to cut the grass. If the owner does not act by the end of that period, the town will cut the grass and send the owner a bill.

The town charges $100 an hour for mowing, $50 an hour for labor and an additional administrative fee. The town mowing is expensive to keep people from using the town as a lawn care service, town Manager Charles Brown said.

If the property owner does not pay the bill within 60 days, the account may be turned over to the state Department of Revenue. Any tax refunds or lottery winnings owed to the property owner may then be taken to pay the debt. In the future, the state may also share that list of debtors with the Internal Revenue Service to include federal tax returns as part of the money that can be reclaimed by the town, Brown said.

Additionally, if the bill remains unpaid after a period of time that has yet to be determined, town attorney Carroll Turner may file a lien on the property.

In other business, the commissioners voted unanimously to approve a final draft of the town rate chart for recreation facility rentals. Under the new guidelines, the Westbrook Park shelter will be free for Mount Olive residents' use and $35 an hour for people who live outside of the 28365 postal code. Parties of 50 or more people will be charged $50 an hour to use the Westbrook Park shelter.

Rental prices for other town facilities range from $20 per hour for use of Daughtry Field to $65 per hour for the historic train depot civic center, once renovation work is completed on the center.

Brown said his calculations based on past facility use suggest the town may raise as much as $14,000 a year from renting out the park and recreation facilities.

The commissioners also examined a policy to guide the board in making donations to charitable organizations. Previously the board did not have a policy in place to determine which organizations would receive town money, making it difficult for the town to account for money given to local groups.

"I don't think we can continue to do it without getting in trouble," said Mayor Ray McDonald Sr.

Under the new policy, the town will only consider donating to groups that are 501(c)3 non-profits. The group must agree to provide accounting for how the money is used and if required for an event, must fund the cost of police security.