BERLIN — As part of its continuing effort to reign in a few wayward property owners, Berlin is planning on leveling stricter lawn maintenance penalties, though the changes likely won’t affect residents until next spring.
On Monday, the Mayor and Council were given a list of nearby communities and the penalties those towns level against property owners who ignore their lawns. Of the list of seven municipalities, Berlin was tied with Pocomoke for being the most lenient. Because of that leniency, the council felt many neglectful property owners take advantage of the town, which mows lawns for a relatively low fee after a property has exceeded the current 10-inch height limit.
In response, the 10-inch limit is being dropped to six inches, and instead of receiving seven days’ notice before the town sends an employee to cut the grass, only five days’ notice will be given.
Planning and Zoning Director Chuck Ward informed the council that both the height reduction and the need for less notice will allow the town to act quicker in addressing overgrown lawns.
“Ninety-nine percent of people in this town keep extremely well maintained lawns,” he said.
According to Ward, there is a sharp divide between those who take care of their yard and those who do not.
“They either cut their grass regularly or they don’t,” agreed Mayor Gee Williams.
Generally, only the property owners who hit 10 inches, said Ward, will reach the new six-inch limit. Along with a crackdown on when the town will step in, the council also proposed almost doubling the fee it charges to cut lawns, while also tacking on an additional fine.
Currently, the cost to a homeowner if the town is forced to mow their lawn is about $55 an hour, depending on what equipment is used. The council plans on bumping that up to $100 an hour as well as charging an extra flat penalty of $50 for a first violation, and $100 for each subsequent infraction.
At the $55 an hour rate, the worry was that some property owners might decide letting the town cut their grass is equivalent to, if not cheaper, then hiring a private groundskeeper to do it. With a bigger hammer coming down on those who choose to turn the town into their personal gardeners, the council believes the practice will stop.
The discussion at Monday’s meeting was just preliminary, and the actual ordinance will not be read into the record until the Sept. 12 meeting.