OLDSMAR — In the last few years, the number of homes with unkempt lawns and debris-riddled exteriors has risen dramatically. In most cases, Oldsmar City Manager Bruce Haddock said at a recent City Council meeting, the homes are abandoned.
Now the amount that the city charges property owners to tidy up the eyesores could get more expensive. Haddock is recommending that the City Council increase the administrative fee — which covers the cost of notification, inspection and ownership records, but not cleanup — from $150 to $250. An ordinance on the fee change has already gone through a first reading and passed unanimously. A second and final reading is tentatively scheduled for Tuesday. If the measure passes, it would go into effect immediately.
Other cities have already raised their rates as the number of foreclosures have ballooned. Tarpon Springs, for example, more than doubled its fee in January, from $150 to $350.
Oldsmar's rate has been the same since 1992, Haddock said. A lot has changed since that time, city records show. In just the last five fiscal years, which run from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30, the number of homes requiring abatement has jumped from one in 2006 to 28 in 2010.
"Most common violations are described as high grass and weeds in excess of 12 inches and junk, trash and debris," city clerk Ann Stephan said in an e-mail to the St. Petersburg Times. "Other violations include unsafe pools and large bee nests."
"Sometimes in a more unusual case," Haddock said, "we may even have to board up windows or doors."
Before the city takes matters into its own hands, it usually gives owners notice to clean up their properties. If the warning is ignored and nothing is done, then the city intervenes. Property owners are billed for the services the city provides and if they don't pay the bill, penalties are assessed and eventually a lien is filed against them.
Haddock said the city's success rate in recouping moneys is "kind of hit and miss.
"But we're around for a long time. We usually get our money."
Reach Rodney Thrash at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4167.