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Wadena warns residents to clean up properties, mow grass

Last week, the Wadena public works department posted signs in about 80 lawns that let property owners know they were in violation of city code, which prohibits grass taller than eight inches. Owners have seven days after notification to cut their grass. If they fail to, the city mows it and sends them a bill.

The Wadena Police Department's push for property owners to remove junk from their yards isn't just about making the city look nice.

"(It's) for the health and safety of the public," Police Chief Naomi Plautz said.

In between her other duties, the chief has been surveying the city throughout the spring looking for violations of the city's public nuisance ordinance. So far, she's flagged 184 properties in southeast, northwest and northeast Wadena. .

"This is quite a process," Plautz said. "It's quite a chore."

Anyone who "maintains or permits a condition which unreasonably annoys, injures, or endangers the safety, health, morals, comfort, or repose of the public ..." is in violation of the public nuisance ordinance as defined by city code.

Accumulations of garbage, plant debris, exposed food matter and other refuse constitute violations, as do forsaken appliances, vehicles, machinery and furniture.

Some things on the list attract rodents and other pests. Other items, such as abandoned refrigerators, present a hazard for children and pets, Plautz said.

"There really isn't an argument for having something dangerous like that in your yard," she said.

When Plautz spots a problem property, she notifies the owner in a letter, and gives a two-week window to resolve the issue.

If the nuisance is still present when police re-check the property, the owner is subject to a $50 administrative fine. Continued non-compliance could lead to misdemeanor charges, which call for up to a $1,000 fine and 90 days in jail.

Although there are a few habitual offenders, "most people are real good" about taking care of the problem, Plautz said.

People should have had ample warning about the spring enforcement effort, she said. Info has been posted to the city website and Facebook page. And an explanation was included in a flier mailed to residents in May utility bills.

Moreover, police verify compliance each spring, although Plautz acknowledged her standards might be different than her predecessor.

"I've gotten more positive feedback than negative," she said.

Plautz said she plans to change the department's enforcement methods after this latest round wraps up.

Instead of doing it herself once a year, she'll assign officers to different quadrants to handle violations as they arise.

"This way," Plautz said, "it will be all year round."

No tall grass

Throughout last week, the public works department scoured the city looking for violations of a different city code, which prohibits grass taller than eight inches.

About 80 property owner were warned - with a conspicuous notice planted amid the grass - to mow within seven days or the city would do it for them and send a bill, said Dan Kovar, Wadena public works director.

"This is the worst year we've seen in quite a while," Kovar said.

A city worker began cutting grass at delinquent properties Monday - work that will continue throughout the week.

"We don't want to go in and mow them," Kovar said. "We don't have the manpower or the time to deal with this."

Property owners will be charged a minimum of $65 for the city to do the work. If it takes more than an hour, it'll cost them $35 for each additional half hour. They'll also be liable for any damages incurred to city equipment.

"I guarantee it would be cheaper if they hired a neighborhood kid," Kovar said.