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Warren adds $20,000 to cut high grasses

Health department to hire more contractors to help mow

WARREN — Steady rainfall is making it so difficult for the city to keep up with the fast-growing and exceptionally high grasses growing both on public and non-cared-for private properties that council has allocated an extra $20,000 for the health department to hire contractors to do the job.

Deputy Health Commissioner Bob Pinti said his department had already committed the $6,500 budgeted at the beginning of 2019 and needed more money if the city is going to tackle high grasses in neighborhoods and at street corners.

The city has been contracting with four area companies to mow in places around the city not done by its operations department. A fifth company recently signed up to do some of the mowing.

During a recent council caucus, Councilwoman Cheryl Saffold, D-6th Ward, said she would like to see the city develop a written grass-cutting policy as a reference for elected officials and others who have questions about what can and cannot be done by the city in the clearing of high grasses, bushes and trees from both city-owned and private properties.

“How far, for example, are high grasses at corners that are view obstructions supposed to be cut back?” Saffold said.

Pinti said the health district policy basically is to go out and cut high grasses as quickly as possible when they receive complaints. On properties that appear to be occupied, the health department will notify property owners the grasses need to be cut, citing ordinances.

“If property owners do not cut the grasses, we take the the proper legal actions, then cut the grasses and place liens on the properties,” Pinti said. “We are not going to cut grasses that only appear that they have not been cut in two or three weeks. If the high grasses, however, present a possible health hazard, we will cut them.”

Pinti said the rains have complicated efforts to cut the grasses because there are areas where the ground is so saturated that the equipment sinks into the mud.

“If we had 27 hours a day, everything could not get done,” Pinti said. “I understand people’s frustration.”

During last Wednesday’s council caucus, Pinti said the contractors are assigned quadrants where they are to mow and are to cut the grasses of the properties that are assigned.

The department attempts to reduce the amount of times they have to get in and out of their vehicles, and load and unload their tractors.

Councilman Alford Novak, D-2nd Ward, said the city needs the money partly because the Trumbull County Sheriff’s Department program that allows non-violent offenders to mow grass has fewer prisoners who qualify.

“I’ve been told that judges are placing ankle bracelets on more non-violent offenders, allowing them not to serve time in the jail, so there are fewer prisoners that qualify to participate,” Novak said. “At one time, the jail program had enough people to have two to three crews. That’s no longer the case.”

Novak has asked the administration and council to consider increasing the per-hour charge from $130 to a higher unspecified amount.

Pinti said he would support this type of move.

Council President Jim Graham suggested that some of the increased funds going to the health department for grass cutting be used to hire Warren Family Mission, which has been cutting grass for Warren at no cost to the city for years.

Pastor Chris Gilger, executive director of Warren Family Mission, said the non-profit does not want to be placed on the city’s vendor list so it can be paid for mowing lawns.

“The work we do is part of our mission of making the city better and more attractive,” Gilger said. “It is part of our ministry.”

Ten years ago, when working with Saffold and then-mayor Michael O’Brien, the mission began mowing lots around the city. It did about 450 cuts during a single summer. The number of cuts fluctuates every year, but it averages about 200 per year.

Warren Family Mission has two people whose jobs primarily are cutting grasses around the city, Gilger said.

“I’ve been at places where the grasses are three- to four-feet high,” he said.

Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership works with a Warren Municipal Court program that allows people who cannot afford to pay their fines and costs to work them off by mowing lawns at properties held in the county’s land bank program.

TNP also is contracted by the county to maintain land bank properties.

“We mow our properties and, sometimes will assist Warren,” Matt Martin, program director of TNP, said. “Planning and budgeting for grass cutting should not be done at this time of year, but during the winter before. Of course, you cannot predict if there is going to be an exceptionally wet spring or summer causing areas to grow at a rapid rate, but plans can be adjusted.”

Martin said the city should not depend on prisoners, people working off fines and costs and the kindness of charity organizations for getting high grasses cut.

Pinti emphasized that the city’s operations department cuts the grasses of its parks and recreation areas and will mow high grasses that provide obstructions at corners, but the city needs assistance in getting the many empty lots where houses have been torn down and properties that have been left uncared-for by property owners.

That is what the money being allocated for the health department is to help fund.

“We have sought vendors to contract for this work,” Pinti said. “We assigned them work as we have it.”

rsmith@tribtoday.com

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