09/12/13 — Mount Olive board looks to address resident concerns

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Mount Olive board looks to address resident concerns

By Josh Ellerbrock
Published in News on September 12, 2013 1:46 PM

Results from increased communication from community members filled the Mount Olive town board's agenda Monday night as the town commissioners discussed possible solutions to traffic problems, curfew violations and unmowed lots.

The ordinances and actions were brought to the board as a result of community forums held during the months of July and August, during which a number of residents voiced concerns about policing and the town's appearance.

The largest concern by the public at the community forums was the appearance of the town because of unmowed lots, especially in the south end of town.

During the summer months, many of those lots have been mowed by the town, and recent equipment purchases have sped up that process. During the board meeting, Town Manager Charles Brown announced the costs the town incurs by mowing those lots. Since April, the town has spent $45,000 mowing 441 lots.

"There's been a lot discussion about this, and a lot of people called and said they don't think it's right for the town to cut people's lawns ... without charging them," said Mount Olive Mayor Ray McDonald Sr.

Brown suggested charging people through their town utility bills.

"If you fail to pay that, the results would be the same if you didn't pay your water bill. Your utility will be disconnected," he offered. "The other thing we're looking at, a lot of these properties are owned by absentee landowners. Mr. (Town Attorney Carroll) Turner and I discussed this. In order to get people's attention, we can file a lien on these properties. If property ever sold, town could recompile some of that costs, all 441 of property owners," Brown said.

Filing liens and taking owners to court (whether they show up or not) could, however, create other problems for the town in court costs.

Currently, the town does have the power to condemn lots as public nuisances. In other words, a lien could be placed against the property in the same manner as delinquent taxes. Eventually the town could acquire the property through a court judgment, but that leaves the town with a lot that usually isn't bought by the public nor is it useful for the town, Turner said.

"We get a lot you can't build anything on 90 percent of the time. I just don't want to see a headline in the newspaper -- 'Town pays $67,000 on lien foreclosures and collects $1,500.' It could involve a substantial amount of money," Turner said.

"Everything you laid out was true and was exactly right," McDonald said. "It's going to cost us money one way or another. But we got to make a decision: Are we going to pay your way or are we going to keep on cutting it?"

"We either got to say to the manager: 'Cut them,' or we got to find another way," he said.

McDonald encouraged the board to keep looking for a potential solution to the unmowed lot problem.

"It's your tax money, and it's my tax money," Commissioner Ray Thompson said.

Consideration by the town board for easing parking problems and simplifying the current curfew law were set for a later town board meeting after McDonald decided to set up committees to look at the problems in more detail.

McDonald appointed a number of town officials to study the possibility of creating a simplified parking rule throughout town that would limit parking to one side of the street. The committee will be looking at which side that could be -- odd or even, based on house numbers.

McDonald also appointed another committee to look over the town's current curfew ordinance to see how it could be upgraded and simplified. Basically, a reworked curfew would make it a civil penalty for parents if their children were found to be on the streets after a certain time without a reason.

"I think this is a good idea. What I'd like to do is ask Mr. (Town Attorney Carroll) Turner, Mr. (Commissioner George) Fulghum and Mr. (Commissioner Ray) Thompson to meet, and y'all come up with something to recommend to the board," McDonald said.