NEWPORT, AR (KAIT) – Officials are urging residents to mow their lawns and clean up their properties this spring and summer after several inches of rain have fallen in the last few weeks. According to Craig Baker, City Inspector, there have been at least a dozen properties that have been eyesores for the city. Under city code, it is illegal to have grass or weeds taller than eight inches within city limits. Some properties have grass as tall as 21 inches.
"Our overall problem is probably unsightly and unsanitary conditions of real property, contacting owners and getting them to comply with our municipal code," said Baker. "The ordinance is unsightly, unsanitary conditions and it deals with the length of grass weeds and overhanging limbs."
Baker said the task falls on him to tell property owners to clean their yards, but it's difficult for him to make contact.
"The ordinance works well for the local people. Now the out of town owners and inherited properties, those are a little more difficult," said Baker. "They don't live here and they don't have to look at it like the local people do so they're concerns aren't like ours."
Newport Mayor David Stewart said the city issues a red tag to owners who are in violation of the ordinance. If nothing is done, the city may place a lien on the property unless the owner pays a fine.
"Sometimes when we try to contact the owners we get nowhere basically. and our public works department will come and cut some properties and we send a bill, if the bill is not taken care of, we proceed with a lean on the property to compensate us for our expenses," said Baker.
"We spend a ton of money every year on economic development and we must show that we're doing our part. When someone comes into town, many times they will come in and look around and we don't even know they're here and we want the town to show well," said Stewart. "It won't be tolerated and we have to do what we can under the laws to keep our town as clean as possible."
Stewart was chief of police in Newport for eight years before becoming mayor. He said abandoned homes can be a breeding ground for criminal activity.
"These abandoned properties that we have around town, and we've torn down and gotten rid of many of them but those that are still there, we have to keep a constant watch on them. The police department has to watch those real close," said Stewart.
"The homes that are actually in violation of the grass ordinance are abandoned homes that can become a high crime area," said Baker. "They take advantage of abandoned homes for housing dogs or drug activity."
"It can cause all types of health problems, not just for that house but for the surrounding neighbors as well," said Baker.
"We will go as far as we can under the law to help anyone with anything as far as keeping their property clean, but it comes a point that we have to put some teeth in our city ordinance and we've got to get the property cleaned up around town. Most of the folks are going along with us and that's what we like," said Stewart.