Chester tables new property maintenance ordinance

CHESTER — No decision has been made by Chester City Council regarding a proposed new property maintenance ordinance that would provide a stricter time for cleanup of questionable properties.

On Monday, council tabled the first reading of a proposed ordinance, which had been requested at a meeting held earlier this year as some council members felt that the current time frame to allow residents to clean up is too lenient.

Under the current city code, residents who are found to have unsightly properties are sent a letter giving them 30 days to correct the violation. If the violation was not corrected in that timeframe, another 30-day letter was sent to residents, followed by another 30 days after that and so on.

At the Nov. 5 meeting, council felt that the 30-day time frame was too long for the city to take any sort of action, and councilman Ken Morris recommended that the city should give residents a 10-day window, to which they would then be fined $10 each day until the property was all cleaned up. Council would then present the notice, and then if the owner could not be located, a lien would be placed against the property. Another suggestion was that the city levy a $25 fine plus $10 for each day until the problem was remedied.

City solicitor Michael Adams said he drafted the ordinance with the intention of compressing the current time frame while also allowing time for the letters to be mailed so that residents could be able to act on the issue.

According to Adams, in the new ordinance, those found in violation have seven calendar days to clean up their properties, whether it be due to high grass and weeds or junk found on properties. If the violation is not cleared by the resident, the councilman can file a criminal or civil complaint, and additional notices are presented ordering them to show up for court.

“So basically what I’m trying to create was one-week windows in time,” Adams said. “They’ve got a week to get it straightened out. If they don’t, we give them a notice to get into court, and then if things aren’t fixed by the time they show up for court or request a hearing, give them another citation. Just keep issuing citations. If that doesn’t get somebody’s attention, they’re just going to keep stacking up citations basically.”

“If they get the letter and it’s cleaned up, and then it happens again, they can get another letter, and it goes the same way,” City Clerk Marlene Fleming said.

Adams also said that the letter would also allow for the resident to request a hearing to which offenders could state whether or not their properties that have been cleared. He also said the police department would also be able to enforce the ordinance.

Councilman John Woodruff and Mayor Rex Cowey (the latter of whom resigned later in the evening) said they had experiences throughout town where residents and businesses had instances of high grass.

“They had that problem at the old TS&T Pottery there,” Cowey said.

Council ultimately decided to hold off with the first reading until a whole new ordinance is drafted.

Meanwhile, councilman Ed Wedgewood provided an update on matters regarding the employee handbook, to which council approved a motion to allow Wedgewood to review the handbook and ask city employees for suggestions and see if there are any issues regarding city policies.

Wedgewood said he had spoken with about three-quarters of the city employees receiving feedback from them and will continue to review the matter for a future meeting.