County Looks To Tighten Tall Grass Law

SNOW HILL – When tall grass needs to be cut, Worcester County staff will be able to step in and take care of the vegetative nuisance much more quickly under proposed new legislation.

The new law would eliminate part of the nuisance abatement process for tall grass and rank vegetation problems only.

The current tall grass nuisance abatement process is cumbersome, requiring two rounds of notification and potentially a hearing in front of the County Commissioners.

Notification letters often go unanswered or are undeliverable, according to county staff, especially bank-owned properties.

“It requires a lot of extra things we have to go through,” said Development Review and Permitting Director Ed Tudor.

“There’s property owners who have taken advantage of the system and delayed and delayed and delayed,” said Commissioner Linda Busick.

Once the process has been exhausted, with no corrective action taken by the property owner, the county may then cut overgrown grass.  The cost of that service is charged to property owners, but collecting those fees can be difficult.

The new legislation, if passed, would cut a great deal of time from a process which, in the end, is really just about getting the grass cut, according to Tudor.

“It would make it a lot easier for us. It would make it a lot easier for you,” Tudor told Worcester elected officials at Tuesday’s meeting.

All other nuisances will retain the current process, including the possibility of a hearing before county elected officials.

 Staff will also draft a new fee schedule in the next few weeks to simplify matters further.

One commissioner was concerned that the move to simplify grass nuisance abatement would be seen in a negative light.

“I just don’t want to be hypocritical about doing a bill like this. I get a lot of complaints in the summer time about the county not cutting the grass on the shoulder of the road. It gets so tall and so high,” said Commissioner Bobby Cowger.

Budget cuts will force the county to reduce grass cutting this summer, Cowger noted.

County Commission President Bud Church said the two matters are not the same.

Foreclosures and neglect impact heavily residential areas, Church said, while most calls about roadside tall grass in the county are on little traveled rural roads.

“I’ve had instances in my district where the grass comes up to the windows,” Church said.

That’s when rats and mice start showing up in residential neighborhoods, he said.

“The grass should be cut because it’s detriment to the neighbors,” said Commission Virgil Shockley.

Sometimes citizens just need to pitch in during tough times, said Commissioner Louise Gulyas. She recounted an instance when a citizen complained to her about tall grass on a neighboring property and then cut the grass herself.

State and federal buffer property needs to be exempted in the bill from cutting between May and August, Shockley said. Those properties cannot legally be mowed over the summer, and roadside buffer vegetation can reach three to four feet tall.

That exclusion, and others, are incorporated into the bill already, said Tudor.

“Let’s get the law passed,” said Church.

The commissioners will consider passing the law in May.