By DAVID GREEN
Morenci city council members are seeking public comment on a pair of proposed changes to city ordinances. The proposals were given a first reading Monday night.
Grass and weeds
A change to the ordinance covering weeds and grass would lower the allowed height of grass from 10 inches to 8 inches, while exempting some properties from the ordinance.
Eight classes of exempt properties include vegetation on woodlands, wetlands and conservation easements; portions of undeveloped property behind a wooded tree line; open space, landscaped areas and storm water retention areas that were developed in accordance with an approved site plan; and public parks.
The entire list of proposed exemptions is available for viewing at city hall.
Building inspector Kevin Arquette told council there are already problems with tall vegetation at undeveloped lots. Mayor Keith Pennington agreed that care must be taken in the wording of the ordinance.
A second change is designed to streamline compliance with the ordinance. The current practice is to send written notices to the owner of the property, and that’s often a challenge when a foreclosed home is owned by a mortgage company.
The new method would eliminate the case-by-case correspondence through warning letters. Instead, a monthly posting of the ordinance would appear in the local newspaper from May to September.
When a violation is found, the city will have the grass or weeds cut and charge a $200 cutting fee, or more if the actual cost of cutting is more.
If payment is not received within 30 days, a $50 late fee will assessed. After that, a special assessment will be levied against the property.
In 2005, the city began writing municipal civil infraction notices for ordinance violations. Previous to that, violators went through the court process. The civil infraction approach results in a much smaller fine for the violator, said Morenci Chief of Police Larry Weeks, and the fine remains with the city. By going through the court system, only one third of a fine is returned to the city.
The new proposal would make it a criminal penalty for failure to respond to a civil infraction. Failure to pay would move the matter to district court. The city attorney would write a warrant for the individual’s arrest and compel them to reply to the citation.
“It certainly gives more teeth to a process that desperately needs it,” said Weeks, referring to a problem of people not responding to infraction notices.
If someone chooses to ignore a civil infraction, it’s very hard to resolve, said Mayor Pennington.
TRAFFIC CHANGE—Council approved several traffic control measures, mostly related to the parking lot project.
However, one unrelated change is to prohibit parking on the west side of Orchard Street for its entire length. The road is narrow, said councilor Tracy Schell, and access is needed for fire hydrants.
PROPERTY MAINTENANCE—Council tabled a decision to automatically adopt the International Property Maintenance Code as it’s updated. The city attorney will first create wording to allow the automatic update.
AMBULANCE—Council approved a request by the Morenci Area EMS board to seek bids for a new ambulance. In February, the board learned it received a grant for $123,500, leaving less than $7,000 for local revenue.
Weeks, who serves as the EMS coordinator, praised Dan Sallows from the EMS station who worked with a committee to develop the specifications for the bid. Bids are due Aug. 11.
PARK—Council approved the expenditure of $1,165 to replace broken playground equipment at Wakefield Park. The equipment was installed in 2000. The “digger” equipment will not be replaced due to frequent breakage. A sand play area might be created instead.
SEARCH—Chief Weeks said about a dozen members of the Shiawassee County Search and Rescue team will return to the city Aug. 20 to further check some areas for clues to finding the missing Skelton children.
“They’re a very determined group and it was difficult for them to walk away without finding what they were looking for,” he said.
A few members of the group have already made return visits to the area.
CONSTRUCTION—Weeks said the “Closed to thru traffic” signs posted around the south city parking lot are not meant to keep all traffic out.
Although the construction workers would likely prefer no traffic, Baker Street and the parking lot remain open at varying times, depending upon work underway.
Pennington cautioned residents to be careful where they drive in the parking lot area due to the rough surface and stakes, but access to businesses remains if needed.
The city recycling center will remain open on its regular schedule except when work on Baker Street prohibits it.