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Dickinson Code Enforcement highlight growing concern

Building Inspector Blaine Dukart and Code Enforcement Officer Tiffany Johnson from the City of Dickinson walk The Press through the process of city code enforcement — specifically the numerous letters sent to residents concerning weeds and grass.

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A lot located northwest of Dickinson shows grass and weeds taller than the maximum height of 10 inches. (Jackie Jahfetson / The Dickinson Press)

The City of Dickinson has mailed out 1,026 letters to residents whose properties have grass and/or weeds taller than the 10-inch maximum allotted height, the most in its history, which is a violation of the city’s municipal code.

Building Inspector Blaine Dukart and Code Enforcement Officer Tiffany Johnson from the City of Dickinson sat down with The Press on Tuesday to highlight the increasing number of code violations, how the city enforces them and some of the common misconceptions residents have with what the ordinance permits and doesn't.

“When we go out and inspect and actually determine if it’s too high, which is a 10-inch maximum height for property maintenance, it’s pretty hard to dispute that orange column laying there that has a 10-inch mark on it. We take photographs timestamped showing the cone and the height or their weeds on the back of that cone. So there’s no question that that property is out of compliance,” Dukart said. “... This is pretty technical because we deal with property owners on a daily basis.

The International Property Maintenance Code controls what goes into the city code for Dickinson, and it has been in implementation since 2011. With this year’s significant increase in overgrown noxious weeds, the city had to establish its own mowing and spraying contractors to assist in keeping Dickinson looking clean.

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Dickinson's Building Inspector Blaine Dukart, left, and Code Enforcement Officer Tiffany Johnson pose for a photo at City Hall Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021. (Jackie Jahfetson / The Dickinson Press)

In 2020, the City of Dickinson was tasked with the additional responsibility to actively enforce and enact measures to control noxious weeds on private properties, the genesis of the influx of letters, Dukart noted.

The most prominent noxious weeds include Canadian thistle, absinthe wormwood and leafy spurge. These noxious weeds are most prevalent within the city, as well as in pockets across Stark County. Approximately two-thirds of the main notices were directed toward the north side of Interstate 94 Dukart explained, saying that the northwest side of Dickinson had a large amount of absinthe wormwood.

Absinth wormwood is a Class C Noxious Weed and areas affected can require re-seeding with desirable species to prevent the spread, or through the usage of Herbicide control.

When letters to residents are mailed out, addressing that their properties are not in compliance with city code, they have a seven- to 10-day period before a punitive fee is assessed. With the heavy workload that Dukart and Johnson deal with on a daily basis and mailing time, most people who are sent the letter have approximately 10 days to get their properties in compliance.

Johnson noted that after the 7-10 days have expired, they’ll go back and reinspect the property, checking that the grass and weeds are cut. If all is well, no fee is charged. If a property owner does not comply within that time frame, a $500 per hour fee is assessed, depending on the size of the lot that requires mowing and there is an additional $500 fee for spraying, Johnson noted.

Before the fee process is handled, the city will try to make attempts with the property owner to verify they’ve received the letter. The mowing contractor will also give the owner a heads up, Dukart added.

“We are making every attempt to facilitate the homeowners or property owners to get property mowed without us having to assess a fee; and it’s a fee, not a fine. The fee is for our services that we had to render there,” Dukart said, making note of the city’s mowing and spraying contractors require payment which is in turn levied against the landowner.

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Tall grass is shown in Dickinson. (Jackie Jahfetson / The Dickinson Press)

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Tall weeds are shown in Dickinson. (Jackie Jahfetson / The Dickinson Press)

Prior to the $500 fee, the fee was set at $250. However, many of the residents failed to comply, which caused the city to raise its fee.

Property owners receive one notice per year, Johnson said, and once the city has had to go in and mow the property, they have the right to go back again and make sure that it is kept under 10 inches.

“Residential homes are less likely to receive this fee. But there are some development companies that have either moved out, or they just don't realize the excessive amount of weeds that they have and they could own hundreds of lots,” she said.

This year alone, the majority of the letters were mailed to multi-property owners, landlords, etc., whereas there were less than two dozen of letters sent to individual properties — private to small homes — that were not in compliance, Dukart noted.

“... It’s a disheartening that ...we have a large number of property owners that actually wait for our letter before they do their property maintenance — a large number,” he said.

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Residents who see properties not in compliance are entitled to call-in to the city and from there, Johnson and Dukart are required to go check out the property and see if the owner is indeed in violation of the city’s code.

“I would say that the purpose of our entire department is to improve the quality of life for everybody in the city of Dickinson and no matter where you live, you have a neighbor. Think about your neighbor, whether it's on both sides, across the street, you have multiple neighbors,” Dukart said, adding, “You're also trying to keep up your yard maintenance and your property maintenance for your neighbors and your own personal pride.”

Other common violations that residents should be aware of include no parking vehicles on a front lawn, no parking in the right of way that is across the sidewalk or out in the ditch and any motor vehicles parked for more than 48 hours in one location are not in compliance with city code and must be moved before a fee is assessed.

Jackie Jahfetson is a former reporter for The Dickinson Press.
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