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Weeds, high grass vexing problems

It seems like it’s a topic that comes about this time every year: What do you do about the problem of weeds and unkempt properties in certain parts of Steubenville?

Members of City Council are concerned, and they devoted a large portion of Tuesday’s meeting to discussing ways to better address the issue.

The city currently begins citing property owners who don’t cut their grass on April 1, a process that runs through October when the weather starts to change. Second Ward Councilman Craig Petrella has suggested extending the enforcement period and establishing a permanent list of habitually vacant lots as a way of better tracking the problem spots.

Both are sound ideas, but the city, as 6th Ward Councilman Bob Villamagna explained, doesn’t always have the staffing to pursue those who neglect their property.

Numbers show city officials are working on the issue. Between April 1 and July 1, Villamagna said, the weed and litter enforcement officer investigated 117 weed complaints and 130 litter complaints and issued 175 notices of property code violations. Since 2008, he added, 1,930 violation notices have been issued.

City workers have been doing a good job of trying to keep up with grass and other maintenance projects this year, council said, cutting 35 lots in addition to doing their regular work on city-owned properties and rights-of-way as well as patching potholes and completing other routine projects. Missing this year, though, have been offenders who were required by Municipal Court to complete community service projects.

They cut 200 lots last year, but Judge John Mascio has not been able to utilize that option because of changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Compounding the issue is its complexity. There simply are, for example, some homeowners and residents in the city who just don’t care what their property looks like and who won’t even do the minimum work needed to maintain it. There also are too many vacant properties that have fallen from the tax rolls. Absentee property owners who have little or no interest in the community other than collecting a monthly rent check don’t make things any easier, either.

Adding to the problems is a sad reality communities like ours have been facing for years: Some houses and apartment structures simply are no longer needed — they were built to accommodate the requirements of a community that once had more than 35,000 residents, but whose population now stands below 18,000.

Some have just been abandoned, either by owners who have left the area or who, sadly, have died and had no one left who could care for the property.

It’s a frustrating issue, especially for the vast majority of property owners and residents in the city who work hard each year from late winter to late fall to make sure their properties are presentable, and one we’re glad to see that city officials are continuing to seek answers for.

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